Claim To Fame: Why I Breathe Fire

Reflection:

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.

JBHARRIS

P.S. If you love what you see here, consider donating! You can donate as little as $1 USD. Either via CashApp ($JBHWrites) or PayPal (sgwritingservices@yahoo.com)! Also, share the fire with others who need to laugh, cry or think!

Love and blessings!

The After-WHEN THEY SEE US

I couldn’t do it, y’all.

I really can’t.  I tried, dearest ones. I was prepared to go in, let have and bring every linguistic dragon I could think of.

But…I couldn’t bring myself to watch this. At least, not right now. This series brings back too many memories, too many current traumas, too many things that right now I cannot lean into. I may not come back out the same. I am trying to remember in such times to keep my heart soft. I am trying to remember that police are not monsters, but human beings. I am trying to remember that police are supposed to protect and serve.

…even the people that you don’t like.

But in times like this? Mane, it would seem that the boys in blue hate the boys in Black skin. I don’t, we don’t, have the luxury of taking off skin. As a mother, sister, wife and daughter, I could not suffer my heart to be snatched through my chest through the incarceration of the Central Park Five (CP5). I could not do it! I know they are all out now, and out their money and trying to do as best as they can. But that doesn’t erase what happened to them, the time stolen from them, or change the fact they were sacrificed to further the career of Linda Fairstein and Elizabeth Lederer!

But I wouldn’t be me, if I didn’t add this as I hasten to close this piece.

WE TOLD YOU SO.

We as communities of color, as Black people, as Brown people told you that the police can be, are, can be seen as the biggest organized crime syndicate ever constructed. We told you the police pull us over just because we are there, have a nice car, too many people in it or in the wrong neighborhood.

We told you that the St. Louis County Police Department was evil before Michael Brown died.on a street. We told you that Chicago PD had houses that hemmed people up and beat them up and through them back out into the night–daring us to say something. We told you that the NYPD, the LAPD, and the small sundown towns along or past highways didn’t like us.

We told you that they beat up my brother in Baltimore.

We told you the police officer hand no reason to stop the girl he wound up raping.

We told you that police harass Black children. Try to interrogate them without parents. Or concern. Or regard for any future they may have.

We told you that police lie to Black children.

 

We told you.

We told you.

We told you.

 

What Ava DuVernay has done is pull back the lies told by this police-positive narrative shoved at a non-minority people to not challenge badges and uniforms. She, through the vessel of art, showed the world–through the intersection of Blackness and humanity—the Central Park Five are more than articles. More than these monsters or mongrels the current POTUS believes should have gotten the death penalty!

Trauma is not for public consumption or amusement. But when you focus trauma, revealing its source, that is when you can harness it as a teaching tool.

There are so many exonerations happening now that judicial reform is something like rain–it is inevitable. It is impossible to ignore. The cry of ‘there are good cops too’ are hollow. They are shrill. And they are not followed up by any action which would empower these phantom ‘good cops’ to hold these blue monsters accountable.

The excuses are over, fam.

The jig is up.

In the immortal words of Cathy “Mama Cat” Daniels:

“We know that all lives matter, but for right now? We gon be specific.”

 

Life Ain’t Been No Crystal Stair

This photo came through my personal Facebook timeline this morning. I remember watching the verdict for the man that murdered Trayvon Martin with my new husband in my college apartment in 2013. I remember I had my hoodie on and cried. I remember how we sat there, him on the sofa and I couch and watched.

I remember how I wouldn’t feel that same level of rage until Michael Brown, Jr. was murdered one summer later.

My father was over six foot tall and ebony dark. He told my cousins the best way not to get stopped by the police was to not wear baggy clothes or hoodies. But, because I am a child of the hip-hop phenomena, I always wore hoodies. But, in baggy clothes, you wouldn’t know I was female unless you knew. Meaning, there would be something about my countenance or mannerism that would suggest I was female.

That being said, in the 6 years that have passed since Trayvon’s murder, my heart today is sad. Yet, motivated. I said on my personal Facebook this quote:

“If I gave into the rage, I could not breathe.”

And it’s true.

If I were to focus on every negative attribute of my life that intersects Black and trauma, I would never have hope. I would be bitter. Evil. tSad. And most of all? Unaware!

That’s what trauma-focusing does. All other aspects of life become alien to you. Associated with other people. Less real, and unattainable by natural means. You become both devoid and immune to light.

One of the joys of writing, of creation, is being able to take the dark out of your own self, and expose it. Wrestle with it where people can see. Wrestle so people can know it is not just them that may feel this way. This means like architects, we are obsessed with light. With making the hidden seen, or remain unseen. Or as Theolonious Monk and other musicians of his era would have called it ugly beauty.

The loss of a child is tragic. It seems much more heinous when done by a system called to serve and protect. As a parent, when you feel the world can no longer protect your child, a special disdain develops. You and them need to be a part of the world, but you remain hypervigilant. All while staying in invisible monsters they hide from–as well as your own.

Yet, the sun still rises most mornings. Rain water still makes flowers grow. There is still hope. From that, we can grieve, cry and laugh. Lord knows,

In Memorium: To The Dudes That Saw There First Pretty Black Girl In JET, & All The Black Girls That Wanted To Be On The Cover of EBONY

 

Image result for jet magazine

I remember my mother subscribing to EBONY and  ESSENCE Magazine when I was a girl. I remember I would pour over these magazines before I would give them back to my mother. I would even carry a copy of either or both of these magazines in my backpack or purse. They would be devoured at lunch, after classwork or waiting to be picked up by my parents after school from 6th-8th grade.

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EBONY was a part of my middle school girlhood. I was a part of the ritual of going to beauty salon with my Mama. It was part of knowing who was doing what, and how many people we could identify! I remember what it meant to pick that up, see it in my house, and even in my classrooms at Yeatman Middle School on the Northside of St. Louis, Missouri in the St. Louis Public School District. I even remember some of the guys in my classes sneaking looks the JET Beauty of the Week!

That is how far back it goes. And this was only the mid-1990’s, fam!

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And this week? I find out that EBONY and JET are firing freelancers, getting rid of other staff and these historic portions of Black media are…going away. These publications are one of the reasons I wanted to be a writer. Why I wanted to be a journalist. Why I was a fierce reader. These publications, shaped my Black girlness and emerging womaness, while collecting my collective ethnic, cultural history.

To know that this is being erased, taken from collective Blackness is the resurgence of all things melaninated, dope and from and in front of Black Jesus?! This ain’t fair!

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THIS IS NOT FAIR!

Roland M. Martin was talking about this on his YouTube Channel today. We know the Johnson Publishing Company, the family company that owns EBONY and JET, has had financial issues for past few years. This is no secret. But! The news that is being unveiled  now suggests that the company which has a 70-plus year history, is about to fold! Like how can this be happening!

Roland Martin was saying that there are a lot of Black media groups that have not made the adjustment to podcasting; consolidating with other media groups; valuing the building over the product the building produced. But, there is a truth to this. But the fact is we need our histories too! We need our legacies preserved too! We need to adjust with the times, too!

Twenty-five years ago? I snuck these magazines in my backpack! Now, download this from the site and follow 9 other podcasts just like it! On my iPhone! Does that mean I don’t like the physical copy? No. I still by physical magazines! But it’s the convenience, dear ones.

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Just like this blog is for you right now.

But, my heart, dear ones, is grieved. I am so grieved! First the HBCU’s and now this. First the GoFund Me’s and Crowdfunding for Bennett College, and there’s about to be no more EBONY or JET in same year Blackness is about to be supernova?! This is a hellafied Faustian baragain, y’all.

Bruh, I am looking forward to being on the cover of a magazine of and because of these 26 letters I whip together all the time! I wanted my face, my staff’s face on the cover of EBONY! That is the one magazine everybody Black still reads and their grandmother and ‘nem keep in the curio cabinet! That is cultural history, beloveds.

 

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I don’t know how we come back from this one. But, I don’t want any more Black creatives or creative outlets to take unnecessary losses, dear ones. We keep saying what we do for the culture–then let’s start preserving it.

 

 

 

 

For CoCo

 

I am getting old, fam.

I freely admit this, as a face forty! But with that vantage point, I know that I am of the age where  I remember when there were no Black girls that looked like me playing tennis, bruh. I remember hearing about Venus and Serena Williams when I was in like middles school and high school. So, my mom was a fan of tennis (namely, Pete Samfras!) and I watched with her.

I knew who Althea Gibson was. I knew who Arthur Ashe was. But the girl that looked like me, cornrowed, beaded, bold and Black? And she was in my Sassy and JANE magazines!  With Nikes! I mean, it was everything! I even remember that Venus was ranked higher than Serena at the beginning of their careers! But, mane! When they played? It was phenomenal.

And it still is.

But here comes Cori ‘CoCo’ Graff, at 15–whuppin up on em in this year’s Wimbeldon. When I saw her fist pump for the first time? It reminded me of the Williams’ sisters. And I was so happy. Among that happiness, I came to the realization that what I do–someone is watching. When she beat Venus? When she gave her the honor of telling she ‘grew up watching her?’ I cried inside.

Do you know the power of having a hero? Do you know how powerful it is to see someone doing what you desire to do? And then, believe that you can do it?!

Man.

The way she feels about Venus and Serena is the way I feel about Shonda Rimes.

Is the way that I feel about Toni Morrison.

Is the way I feel about Susan Taylor.

Is the way I first felt when I picked up a pen.

CoCo found her hero–and beat her. But, the little girl in me imagines her ‘playing’ the Williams sisters in her imagination often. How she pretended to be either of them when she played other girls–or dudes, for that matter.

It reminded me of the power of vision, and the sustaining nature of any vision.

At 15, I wanted to be a famous writer. And only had a handful of heroes to look up to.  And 16 years later (which feels like a lifetime ago), I began to be serious about becoming one! Yes, that means I’ve been on this hustle for about 5-6 years now. Am I where I want to be? Nope. But yet, have another goal in mind. If Shonda and Tyler can, why can’t I?

But, the thing is…I think CoCo did the same.

Why can’t I?

If I had anything to say to CoCo, it would be–“Who told you that you couldn’t?” 

The best thing you can do for an ambitious child is to give them space and voice–and in her case, a tennis racket.

Eff em up, sis! Eff em up!

From The Crates (2016)

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This post came through my Facebook timeline this morning. I thought I would share. In my former life, my husband and I ran a church for almost 3 years. When Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered back to back, I yelled as loud as I could into the either. I am not in a defined Christian ministry role now, but I am an activist. Make no mistake–just becaues you don’t see me, don’t mean I’m not working. -JBHarris

 

 

 

From the desk of Pastor Jennifer Phylon Harris, mother of 2, wife of Phillip Harris (Lead Pastor of Spirit Of Life Church-St. Louis), godmother to 4, with a dozens of adopted brothers and sisters in Christ:

I am granddaughter of slaves, sharecroppers, moonshiners and hybrid transplant from miry clay to the marvelous light. I was never taught to be ashamed to be Black.

We are at a point in this nation where silence is felonious. The murder of black people floods news feeds and cable news networks with the greed equivalent to hogs being slopped. The time to be quiet…IS OVER.

Please see the following:

If you defend the actions and silence of law enforcement, support the NRA, oppressive tactics, and the systematic destruction of Black and Brown people, unfriend and unfollow.

If you believe #alllivesmatter but have no desire to truly apply that to all people. Leave your humanity key. Unfriend and unfollow.

If you remain silent when these tragedies of loss of life surround you, unfriend and unfollow.

If you believe nothing is wrong, you are complicit. Unfriend and unfollow.

If you take issue with clergy being involved and outspoken during this time of unrest, revoltion and change, unfriend and unfollow.

If you still need to be explained what white privilege is, unfriend and unfollow.

If you believe that police don’t need tell on one another, and the officers that do speak up don’t need support, unfriend and unfollow.

“Our lives begin to end when we stop being silent about the things that matter.” -MLK

BLACK LIVES MATTER.

DISMANTLE WHITE SUPREMACY.

PROTECT PEOPLE.
(“Ain’t nobody free, till we all free. -Fannie Lou Hammer)

LET THE CHURCH BE THE CHURCH. DO THE WHOLE WORK.

QUEER LIVES MATTER.

TRANS LIVES MATTER.

BLACK WOMEN MATTER.

BLACK DOLLARS MATTER.

“We can do this y’all. C’mon.”
-J. Harris

Why It Comes To This

There are certain things in this American pop culture that people clearly don’t want trifled with. Now, me being the fan of language that I am, and as big a fan of storytelling that I am, let me put you on game real quick.

Walt Disney, the machine that is DISNEY, did not have an original idea. Aside from Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto, Daisy and Goofy. The powerhouse stories are taken from The Grimm Brothers, and in the case of The Little Mermaid, it is a taken from the Hans Christian Andersen story. You can link that here. What Disney has done in adopting these stories for the entertainment of children, is take a source text to adapt it to a suitable audience.

This is the beauty and nature of literature and art. What we not about to do is champion the craziness that is found in this campaign of #NotMyAriel or #MakeArielWhiteAgain. We not about to do this over here. We really not. What the Disney has done, again, is take a source text and reimagine it. I don’t have time to go into the literary breakdown of how cool that is, but I will say this.

First, Halle Bailey will be amazing as Ariel.

Second, if you think a mermaid–an imaginary creature from an almost 200-year old Danish story–which is a play on the sirens of ancient Greek mythology, cannot be Black? You are part of the problem.

What is the problem, you ask? The problem is your issue with visibility, diversity and the challenging of what you think should or could be acceptable representation of Black women and girls. It would seem that the people of this adamant persuasion regarding The Little Mermaid, are hilarious. But perhaps, this was the most potent social media comment pertaining to this situation:

 

 Imagine this.

*Not seeing yourself in any media depiction that wasn’t subservient. That wasn’t magical. That was delegated to the maids, mammies, and shadow people. Imagine that the casting of someone that looks like you, in a public medium like film, and having the reaction as vitriolic as Halle is having? Imagine having the color of your skin, your hair, your very being seen as so ‘offensive’ to what people call the ‘original’ film? Can you imagine how insane that would be?

Furthermore, as a Black girl who grew up before Tiana in The Princess And The Frog, was a voting adult before the election of President Barack H. Obama, as a Black girl that was told there were limits on my own imagination–representation is everything. If there was a little White girl that can imagine herself as Ariel, why can’t a little Black girl finally see herself as Ariel?

Is it the seeing of a Black girl as more than a caricature that is offensive? Is it the desire for diversity, in the insistence of our personhood, our presence, or magic? I wasn’t so struck by the need for this level of diversity with this particular film until my oldest daughter, whom will be 12 in September, gave me a gift. She made this mermaid sculpture at a camp. The mermaid was blonde, with brown hands, and a white face. She had never seen a Black mermaid. There weren’t even any Black mermaids in The Pirates Of The Carribean! I remember there being a Black mermaid (read:  tokenism!) on the cartoon in the early 1990’s. But the insidious thing that I had to catch myself on? What I had to confront was because I had not seen it, I could not believe it, ergo it could not be possible.

As a writer, I had to dive into this. Why couldn’t I believe mermaids could be Black? only because I hadn’t seen it. The Little Mermaid, the Disney version, is now about 30 years old. I was 8 when this movie came out–and didn’t even see it in the theaters. I was more into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at age 8. However, in deconstructing this feeling, I was encouraged by the fan art which is making appearances on Facebook. Here are some of my favorites:

 

“Up where they walk,

up where they run.

Up where they play all day

in the sun,

Wanderin’ free–

Wish I could be…

part of that world.”

Indeed this lyric from Part Of Your World has never been more prolific. We are part of this world.

 

 

*Author’s Note:  I would be remiss in my writer duties not to remind you to watch the documentary Horror Noire which is still available on Shudder. In watching that documentary, I believe much more will make sense to you.

 

 [top image: Disney via Google. First Ariel image is by Nilah Magruder (@nilaeffle–she first displayed this image on her personal Twitter timeline.]

 

Daddy Lessons #6: Dealing With The Fucksh!t

“As much as you can, avoid foolishness at all cost.”

-Richard L. Bush (1948-1998)

My father was a man of action. He had this uncanny ability to discern what was, is, could be foolishness. For this ability, I am grateful. With him gone, and the regime of Orange Thanos, I have never missed him more.

When I encounter crazy situations, after trying to pray first, I look at the situation for what it is. From that observation, I come to one other rooted piece of gospel from the Urban Prophet: “Now, you know what you got.”

I don’t have the patience to go through this life giving 10-level energy constantly to 2-level problems! I don’t have the desire to give more energy to situations which cannot/do not improve or to people that don’t desire to hear wisdom!

This also goes for people that choose not to support me in prosperous endeavors! I have made up in my mind that people can walk, fly, ride or catch up! In order to have peace in this life you have to learn how to deal with people; and how to deal with people you don’t like or people that won’t change.

You cannot allow people with no power in their own lives to try to assert power in yours! You have to be able to tell people where they can and can’t be in this life! You have to be strong enough, wise enough, to listen to the things and people that matter.

And also know when to know what will never change. The best thing God will ever give you is sense and eyesight. When you use those two things together? You are unstoppable. Keep that same energy to deal with people, things and situations which don’t serve you. Protect your peace at all costs–because it’s priceless.