What’s Beef to Girls Like Me: The Reality of a Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj Rap Battle

572fe05f72767-imageWhen the fabric of your everyday work is woven with the heartbreaking, tragic outcomes of the all too common beef between girls, well then you tend to find it challenging to dismiss verbal assaults between two very public and influential Black women as merely an industry byproduct.

If they didn’t know before, just about anyone with an internet connection and an ear to the social media streets has learned who Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma are… or at least that they don’t like one another. In fact, if one was not familiar with their chosen career paths, the pop culture chatter might have one believe that someone had literally been physically assaulted, murdered, and decapitated. Especially when most of the related conversation is violent, even has inspired a reference to the homicide investigative-style television series, The First 48.

Still, it’s all been chalked up to fun and games…just a little lyrical wordplay between two rap artists. Nothing to see here. Just classic battle rap.

Yet perhaps if the names and lives of Myzhane Flourney, ShaMichael Manuel, Amy Joyner, Endia Martin, or De’Kayla Dansberry were a fabric of more people’s everyday consciousness, there would be less applauding the spectacle of Black women verbally assaulting one another for all the world to hear, and more concern about the impact on real life child’s play.

Some of us are all too familiar with the very real funerals processions, real flowers, real mourning  for the too early dead lives of Black girls on the other side of loud arguments, instigating peers, and bruised egos. A few of the girls named above can tell you about the ugly truth of girl fights…but some of them cannot. They are no longer here. Beaten. Stabbed. Shot…to death. Following an exchange of words.

I personally find it a bit perplexing that there is a measurable contingency of people (Black women specifically) who are irritated by those of us who live with this devastating truth at our center and therefore have raised flags on the gleeful adulation over glorified interpersonal girl conflict. There seems to be a compulsive addiction to Black girl drama…sadly even Black women/girls are here for it. It is normalized as acceptable, even expected. All this with complete disregard to what we know has been bared out by research and empirical evidence; that celebrities and media influence teens as strongly as peers and parents.

I’ll save the judging for others who find their validity in that lane. I’m not angry nor berating anyone who disagrees with my stance. My only goal is that if we clap for bad girl behavior, we take some time to find a young impressionable vessel and ask her perspective of the all too accessible “rap beefs.” See how far she can separate fantasy from real life. Be sure to follow up and ask her how she responds to interpersonal conflict? What she would do if she were in the shoes of your latest rap heroine?

And in hopes that it is not too much to ask, can we consider that just maybe the energy we give to this low frequency behavior does indeed lend to the vibration of society.

Then too, I remember when for me there was a limit to the number of words exchanged before contact was made…especially those fighting words. Beyond that, though, hatred and violent speech sends the same message whether from a politician or a rapper. Someone is listening. Someone is emboldened to enact the sentiments.

And it’s never a game.
No, #BlackGirlMagic is not about being perfect and righteous at all times. But what it is about is setting the intention to be better. That’s the game I want us all to win. Get better. Be better.

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PushOut Comes to Chicago

Flyer (1)Seems as if the weeks don’t pass when some form of schoolhouse trauma does not shake up the life of a Black girl. It is such a prevalent happening, and there seems to be no age limitations as babies as young as four years old are harshly reprimanded, punished, handcuffed, expelled, and at worst pushed into the criminal justice system straight from their classrooms.

From brilliant science projects to emotional breakdowns, Black girls are denied their right to experience their full humanity without becoming engaged with law enforcement. The most recent story we’ve heard is the case of 6 year old Madisyn Moore who was handcuffed for allegedly “stealing” a piece of candy from her teacher’s desk. And none of us can forget the atrocious sight of the video showing a “school resource officer” slamming and dragging a Black girl from her desk in Spring Valley.

Hard as we try, we can’t seem to remove from our consciousness the images of savagery committed against Black girls in classrooms across this country. And while those raw images replay in our minds like the latest cinematic thriller, sadly it is a reality far too many actually live through every single day. In fact, the African American Policy Forum released a report, Pushed Out: Over Policed and Under Protected which outlines the numbers of Black and Brown girls impacted by the systemic injustices that have stripped their humanity, leaving them to be treated like wild animals in the very spaces that are supposedly dedicated to their development and protection. This report gave way to the social media and online activism of #BlackGirlsMatter, which curates story after story of girls violated by the concerted efforts between school administrators and law enforcement.

My story is among them. Though my situations took place more than 20 years ago as a Black teenage girl, the trauma of yesterday connects me with girls like me who a generation later are further entangled in policy that  seeks to over-criminalize and under-educate them.

That is why when I learned Dr. Monique Morris would be visiting Chicago, I jumped at the opportunity to host a discussion and community forum for her book, Push Out: Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.

Girls Like Me Project, as a member of the South Side Coalition on Urban Girls, will host Dr. Monique Morris on Wednesday, March 30th at Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy, located 1060 East 47th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60653. Forum begins promptly at 6p. I am inviting you to join us!

Before we get the conversation going, check out the latest episode of Voices Of Advocacy Radio which discusses this very grave matter.

More about PushOut: Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools

Book overview: Black girls represent 16 percent of female students but almost half of all girls with a school-related arrest. The first trade book to tell these untold stories, Pushout exposes a world of confined potential and supports the growing movement to address the policies, practices, and cultural illiteracy that push countless students out of school and into unhealthy, unstable, and often unsafe futures.

For four years Monique W. Morris, author of Black Stats, chronicled the experiences of black girls across the country whose intricate lives are misunderstood, highly judged—by teachers, administrators, and the justice system—and degraded by the very institutions charged with helping them flourish. Morris shows how, despite obstacles, stigmas, stereotypes, and despair, black girls still find ways to breathe remarkable dignity into their lives in classrooms, juvenile facilities, and beyond.

 

Black Dolls: Holding up the mirror to society’s ugliness

 

Disgust. That is the most appropriate term for the video that captured the reaction of a White American child receiving a “Black doll” for a Christmas present. The fact that the adults recording thought it a funny “prank” to present a Black doll to their white children is beyond disgusting. And it is disappointing on quite a few levels.

First, let’s acknowledge that for decades, Black children have had no other option than to play with toys that were not reflective of their own inherent, magical beauty.  I myself can recall a girlhood which lacked options for my peers and I to see/be ourselves during playtime. Even when “Black” doll/toy options were presented, it was always some hue of grey-Black that I have yet to see on any living, breathing human from here to Africa. Features so  exaggerated, no wonder Black children refused to play with their “Black” dolls, which in turns prompts the explaining and cajoling yet again, this time to extol the merits of beauty found in all Black people. See how Black parenting is ever expansive and exhausting? We inherit teaching moments for what White parents take for granted. We don’t get a choice.

So while Black parents have had the onus of explaining, excusing, and teaching our children about diversity and the appreciation for other cultures, white parents have smugly presented the notion that “other” means inferior, ugly, worthless, and alien.

And it must be noted, that because of white supremacy’s elaborate design, historically most Black children rarely scoff at receiving white dolls. The disdain for one’s self and all things representative is the cost Black children pay to play…with dolls, with their history, with their own humanity. So much miseducation. Intense work to relearn and rediscover your value.

That’s the privilege of white supremacy…when YOUR identity is never in question as being the “other.” When everything you encounter reinforces your worth. Everything from toys to movie stars to marketing to policy dictates that you are the standard.

But you are not. Which is what has always been the problem. The problem for whites, really. People of color have no qualms with sharing the human spectrum. We buy into the ideal that beauty and value can be found in other races. Our children are taught to accept differences in others…heck the Church joins in the education of Black child identity and by age 4 everyone believes the words to the song Jesus Loves the Little Children, remember that? It went like this…

“Jesus loves the little children

all the children of the world.

Red and Yellow

Black and White

all are precious in his sight

Jesus loves the children of the world”

My concern is for the children. Working with Black girls, training them in media literacy and to be digital storytellers of their own experiences, my mission is to help them critically examine the messages that tell them they are inferior and stigmatize them. It is work necessary to help them move beyond the mental block of negative media and stereotypes that have been appropriated to them.  It is the work being done in communities of color all across this country; the repairing of girl magic and mending spirits broken by the ugliness of our society.

Yet, while we are tending to our girls, distinguished organizations and programs that claim to serve girls and fight for equality for all girls, seem to be avoiding an imperative teaching moment. I have watched the film Missrepresentation. I admire the writings of those claiming to build leaders amongst girls and end the “mean girl” behaviors. But what each of these have in common is 1.) A traditional white audience  2.) They negate the race conversation, refusing to deal with perpetuation of stereotypes and prejudice amongst those they serve 3.) When/if race is mentioned, it is an aside. The message is, the only change needed is to allow girls/women to be at the table… that is white women and girls.

In the times of Black Lives Matter, some may rebuff this as a tiny distraction to the overall liberation of Black and Brown people. Many may argue that this is just a play thing of no significance.

Well, I beg to differ. First of all, Black children need to love and value themselves beyond the lens of White people. There is no way they will be moved to join a movement for their liberation if they are not conscious to the truth. Secondly, if there is to be trust amongst allies, White adults must unequivocally point out this type of ignorance. There is far too much silence from those who claim to be fighting for equality and feminism. And thirdly, begin teaching their children at the earliest opportunities an appreciation for ALL peoples.

Blacks have gone far above and beyond convincing White America about our humanity. It is high time we tap out. Now it’s White America’s turn to look at their own instances of inhumanity and practices of dehumanization, then work to correct it. This is a prime teachable moment. I can’t wait to see the lessons in practice.

 

Teaching tips:

  • Expose children to other cultures
  • Foster authentic interactions that allow others to fully show up
  • Be honest with children about history
  • Provide cultural reading material, film screenings
  • Invite guest speakers to share their experiences
  • Collaborate for diverse programming
  • Follow #Blackgirlsmatter
  • Choose any of these culturally framed reads from this age-appropriate list
  • Make the Black Doll a conscious consumer choice

Community-based organizations doing the work across the country :

Girls Like Me Project (Chicago)

FAAN Mail (Philly)

Black Girls Rock (NYC)

Daughters of the Collective (Detroit)

WISEE Queen Dream Institute (Oakland/Bay area)

About the author…

keish 1

 

 

#SaveOurLibrary-Chicago students stage read-in

Reading is fundamental, or so the saying goes. Except maybe the significance of that statement hasn’t reached the rationalized logic of Chicago Public School officials who have cut budgets for its school libraries which in turn has closed libraries in all  but two of its schools with predominantly Black students.

The findings are common knowledge these days: school librarians are connected to improved student performance, reading expands the connection and understanding of the larger world, school libraries are safe havens and playgrounds to foster imagination, reading is primary factor in closing the achievement gap.

Still, the nuance of all the related statistics wasn’t what prompted young students at three affected schools in Chicago to stage a unified read-in  demonstrating their dissatisfaction with the impending library closing.

What lead the students housed in the historic DuSable high school building to sit en masse in the halls  with books from their library was learning their beloved librarian would be terminated at the start of their Holiday break. For students, the devastation is personal.

A few were quoted in local newspapers expressing how they were losing their refuge and one peaceful place to study.

While I myself am all-too familiar with how life-saving school libraries can be, even more I am proud of the agency these young people have harnessed to address a system that has consistently left them disenfranchised.

The read-in was just another facet of the movement that has been steered by the audaciousness of young people…a movement that says we will no longer be devalued and locked out.

Veronica “Precious” Bohanon, a social supports professional, arts therapist, and counselor to students, qualified the acuteness symbolized by student’s joining the voices of resistance to status quo.

“It’s bigger than a librarian. It’s about youth knowing they deserve resources and using their voice to demand it,” Veronica offered. “This intersects with every struggle happening in the city. Students are honing their voice and learning to follow their gut.”

Also on the line is the moral and financial ties of those professionals who answer the calling to be librarians. Korvetta Spencer answered the call and paid a hefty $$ price to earn her 2nd Masters in 2nd Master’s degree in Library Science. She did so after feeling restricted by classroom teaching measures, and longed for the autonomy to teach what she sees as  important and the most beneficial to her students.

After cuts at two different schools, she finds herself right back in the classroom, unable to use her Masters degree, yet carving out opportunities to transport the minds of her students.

“It’s a constant battle, however, we become librarians so that we can share the world with the students, to enlighten their minds, feed their curiosity, and expose them to what’s beyond their neighborhoods,” Korvetta affirms. “That’s why I taught my students about the Little Rock Nine; we read, discussed, and wrote about the Willie Lynch Letter; Bill Cosby’s speech, Can’t Blame White People;  Emmett Till and the present-day impact. I educated them about the Harlem Renaissance, Kwanzaa, Black scientists and inventors, how society views them, and the best ways to combat those stereotypes. For many students, the only books they have access to, are the ones in the school library because no one at home buys books, and no one has the time to take them to the public library. So, without a well funded, functional library program; staffed with a trained, certified librarian who truly understands who they are, where they come from, and what they need, our kids will continue to be lost, mis-educated, and ignorant to the possibilities of who they can truly be.”

The librarians get it. The students get it. How come CPS doesn’t?

How can you help? Glad you asked?

  • You can support the efforts to keep libraries open in Chicago Public Schools by signing this petition.
  • Parent/community groups can raise funds for a librarian
  • Philanthropist can donate and/or endow a library fund for a specific school of their choice
  • Volunteer as the librarian at a disenfranchised school

UPDATE as of 12/16/2015- it was announced school librarian was reinstated for all three schools housed within DuSable campus.

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Happy Friends Happy Teen 

Pharrell Williams’ hit song, Happy, may have been on to something. Recent findings from an on going study says beyond exercise and a healthy diet, a network of happy friends can enhance a teen’s lifestyle.

 “Depression itself doesn’t spread, but a healthy mood actually does,” he says. The study found that teens with a strong group of friends not suffering from depression — described as a “healthy” mood — had half the probability of developing depression and double the probability of recovering if they were depressed.”
The study is being conducted by National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health.

More findings shared via CNN. To read full study, click here.

Here are a few Girls Like Me Project tips for fostering Happy teen networks:

  • Host teen-lead events
  • Sponsor teen days/outings
  • Create happy circles via group-mentoring 
  • Lead team building activities
  • Encourage social networking, include safety Ed.

Black Girls: The New Road Kill

Shock. Awe. Horror. Silence. Indifference. Fade out….

This is the cycle that has followed the unGodly findings of dead Black girls left on the sides Iof interstate highways in America. Our America. Where Black girls can be found brutalized, tied up, decapitated, burned, and viciously beaten to death yet yield only hushed whispers of wonder and taboo talk.

Two summers in a row four Black girls have went missing only to be found mysteriously dumped like road kill, yet the mainstream media has been almost silent with mediocre mentions. Black activists have not seemed to remember to speak their names when proclaiming Black lives matter.

Perhaps it is the clandestine and controversy tied to their lifestyles that has pushed these lives to the margins of our outrage and mourning. Last September, Angelia Mangum and Tjhisha Ball were found naked and bound together on a Florida highway. Now this June, almost a year later, Kayla Ward and Jasilas Wright were found within a few weeks of one another in Louisiana. Their lives stripped of tomorrow’s promise, their stories buried under the outrage for cases with the obvious, menacing targets. Drowned out by the rallying cry for justice in police and racially-motivated killings.

***Publisher’s note:***

Since this blog was published, more tragic incidents have been shared with us. In May 2015, two sisters, Antquonette Hale, 20, and Tahnaizja Smith, 15, were found dead in a vacant lot. Their deaths were ruled homicide.

Yet another tragic case made headlines when Shakiyla Young, Ce’onta Cretter, and Laura Green (all acquaintances ) met the same fate on July 19, 2015. One of the young women was found in a dumpster along I-70. The other two found in a car and on a front porch.

Unlike the Atlanta Child Murders of the 80’s, these despicable killings do not seem to signal a trend…not for national outrage nor retribution. No cry to demand these crimes are solved. That even in death their lives have dignity.

Even in the media spaces and platforms hosted/published by Blacks, there has been a downplayed coverage… if any at all.

A crowd-fund was set up to cover the cost of Tjhisha and Angelia’s funerals. Less than $14K of the total $18K was raised.

My simple question is: why?

Do #BlackGirlsMatter when our girls are misdirected? When their lifestyles aren’t so pretty and poised? Do they matter when they aren’t poster children for scholarships and academic dexterity? Do they matter when they haven’t tapped into their Supreme self?

When? When do Black girls matter?

i hope we lift our Black girls in life before death steals them from us. I hope we speak the names of all we lose.  Today, my sisters I honor your life. I speak your names. May we all honor them and find the answers to their mysterious and cruel deaths.

 

By the Grace of God…Here I am!

1459215_10201816861135154_1471421347_nIt’s hard to pinpoint any instance in particular, but this latest tragedy of violence that has taken the life of yet another child in Chicago has to be one of the most senseless and illogical. Endia Martin, a 14 year old freshman at Tilden High School was shot to death as a result to an argument over a boy with her former friend, another 14 year old girl. The argument apparently involved some cyber cat-fighting and eventually played out on a south side street that is all too familiar with gun shots and hopelessness.

While more than 50 children have died by violence this year alone, it is not typical to hear that the suspect is a teen so young…definitely not a girl. This is different. But is it really new?

Like so many, I too have asked the question of just what in the world transpired that would cause a 14 year old girl to shoot her former friend. Is that hate? Is that anger directed at an individual? How much vitriol disregard can you truly have for someone who just months ago you were cool with (in adolescence rationale).

You begin to research, to make a personal connection to the children involved. You hear family anecdotes and friends’ reflections. Facebook photos surface. More questions.

Then you remember what your life was like at 14-15…

This is my story.

I remember the fall day like it was yesterday.

It’d been a long week. Another day walking the halls in a school I abhorred…sitting in classes with only one other person who looked like me, in front of teachers who expected nothing from me, and amongst peers who (in my mind) were so simple (they all believed this stupid bogeyman perception that kids who grew up in the “city” were extremely poor and  deviant. Too boot these “suburban kids were the poorest materialistic folk I’d ever met) it all  felt so pathetic. I only hung out with seniors.

Just as in previous days,while passing one another in the hall I’d  bumped shoulders with my arch nemesis…she liked my boyfriend; and truth be told I know some colorism was at play on both our parts. Too bad for us that on this particular day, my tolerance was on empty. She walked past my locker as I was talking to my boyfriend and made a snarky remark. I told her I was going to fuck her up. Oh yes. No filter… I had a potty mouth and could hang with the best of drunken sailors. We argued on the bus ride back from our predominantly white suburban school to our all-Black suburb. She got off at the first stop. I remember thinking. Okay. Good. I don’t feel like fighting anyway and really just want to go home. But when I got off at my stop (about 3 blocks) I see her and a group of instigators running towards me yelling my nickname (which became infamous against my desires). Oh shit. She is still on this b.s. Okay, she want a fight, a fight she is going to get. I ran home, dropped my book bag at the door, ran into the kitchen got a steak knife and dashed back up the street. She was still there talking big stuff. I let her swing first, then I popped her one good time… then landed a couple of more. The knife connected right below her temple.

I saw the blood. Instantly I felt remorse….I said I was going to fuck her up, but I didn’t consider her blood. All I could think was that I fucked up. I don’t remember what happened…if I walked to the police station that night  myself or if the police came to school the next day (maybe both).

Court date came and went…don’t even remember how I plead but God’s favor was all over me. Case dismissed (I think). But that would not be the end of my woes for the two and half years I lived and attended school in the suburbs of Chicago. Other scenarios filled my teenage angst. I loved NWA and had my mother confiscate my cassette tapes (which I dubbed from friends). I constantly mouthed off to racist/prejudiced teachers and got detentions and suspensions. And more fights…mostly 85%  not as the aggressor.

But that doesn’t matter. Aggressor or not, fighting is still fighting. And in the heat of the moment, especially when weapons of any kind are involved, can end with someone seriously hurt. Or dead.

So I can understand why so many question what leads our girls to this behavior, what is going on today? I keep in mind the times long ago but not far away when even before I moved out to the suburbs and lived on the Low End of Chicago, it was pretty common to hear of girl fights involving locks and box cutters.

WE look at these girls’ Facebook pictures today and question their parents’ involvement and guidance…their morals; yet I can attest to being a girl throwing up gang signs OFTEN, my mother even found a picture of me on a bus full of SUBURBAN Black kids, all “gang banging.”

What I know for sure is this…there but for the Grace of God here I am. Today I am an advocate for urban girls who are growing up in similar environments as me and in a time when NOBODY seems to care about their very being. When the only time Black girls matter is if it is an exotic story from a world away. This is a time when not even the school house can be a refuge full of teachers who fight tooth and nail to educate and give life to your full development. This in a time where local politicians sell out kids for a dollar or even at a price as low as a handshake from the mayor. Today guns  pass through U.S. customs and land in the hands of 14 year old girls in economically stifled neighborhoods but never make it to their polar opposite neighborhoods…even while obscure people like Bin Laden can be found in caves or missing planes can be tracked to ocean floors across the world

See folks LOVE to play the righteous role…like their whole life has been an angel’s walk. Not my story.  lovnd and own their place as change agents in this world…I choose this work over a career that could easily yield me $60K+ a year. This work that I am lucky to earn $10K  a year. Why?

Because I remember. Because they are girls like me and I know what they can be IF we invest in them making it to the other side, successful, wounded healers bettering their community. Feeling loved. Being love.

Stop judging our babies. Stop treating them like they are just another headline or case study of the day. They are still yet babies with a whole lot of growing up to do. See their value. See how you can increase your value by investing in them.

Please. There is no future that we do not nurture.

*I had completely come to a different understanding of my worth by my senior year of high school. I avoided physical conflicts. I spent time with productive friends who had ambition and dreams. I was ALWAYS surrounded by a loving mother/grandmother/father/stepmothers, extended church family….this all made a difference.

Hair We Go…Again. Open Letter to our Babygirls

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I’m tired. Sick and tired, really. It is rather exhausting to constantly debate the value and beauty of girls like me, whose very basic existence from our names to our physical traits (hair, skin complexion, facial features, anatomy) deviate from the european standards of beauty and respectability. Whose melanin and pigmentation seem to cast a shadow of doubt about our worth in this society. Every month, it seems we are confronted with yet another viral, insensitive, and highly offensive incidence of degradation aimed at Black girls. From the curious case of Gabrielle Douglas twitter chatter, to the unforgivable Quvenzhane Wallis verbal cuts, to the shaming of Willow Smith, to the sickening Rachel Jeantel reactions. I could go on and on. And these are only the highly visible cases, no way to capture the thousands of shaming episodes Black girls endure in classrooms, doctors’ offices, sports arenas, media messages, and households on a daily. I swear, if we added up all the hours of blogs, commentary,discourse, debates, rationales and confrontations dedicated to fighting misconceptions and narrow perceptions when it comes to our little girls’ hair and image, we’d have a year’s worth of classroom instruction.

In case you need to revisit, here’s how a historic moment became a trigger of pain for an innocent Gabby Douglas

I have devoted a huge chunk of energy doing combat work, trying to get folks to acknowledge our girls. And while I feel strongly about resisting the stereotypes and stigma as I did on CBS Atlanta, d.i.v.a Downloads, Perri Small Show WVON, Lady Dee Mind Magick Radio, it is so draining.

It always makes you wonder how much more we can take, that is until the next time we hear an atrocity such as the recent cases of 7 year old Lamiya Cammon whose teacher had the audacity to cut her braids in class and 12 year old, Vanessa VanDyke who is facing expulsion because she chooses to wear her hair in its natural state.

Vanessa-VanDyke-via-screencap-615x345

How can one even begin to give voice to the anguish and defeat of the young lady who could no longer own her name, because it was not acceptable in her environment. Now one Keisha has become Kylie.

Sigh…

So here’s what time it is.

It is time to stop draining ourselves and fighting a losing battle. No more of the Kanye West outcry for validation in places we will never gain acceptance or respectability. From now on, my energy will be spent affirming our girls. Teaching them and empowering their agency. I will speak to their power, their beauty, their legacy, their heritage and their future…their life.

And so I penned this letter…

Dear Babygirl…

There is so much I want to share with you. So many things I wish you could truly know and believe. All the things us as your mothers and aunts tell you make us sound like we rode dinosaurs to the homecoming dance, and kind of make it hard for you to trust that we understand. I bet you believe we don’t have a clue what your current situation is like.

And you are right. We did not go through puberty last month. We didn’t have our first kiss last week. It wasn’t just yesterday when we were trying to study for the U.S. Constitution or ACT exam. Nope.We didn’t do our homework on a computer while texting our teachers if we had a question. Most of all, we are not sitting in our rooms trying to think of a way to get permission to go hang with our friends without cleaning the dishes.

Still, there are some things that are just the basics. You know, that stuff that never gets old.

The stuff of life that every girl child in your family, dating back to at least 6 generations, has had to navigate her way through.

1. You are the most special, most important person in your life.

You are a gift who was pre-ordered and given a due date much like your favorite album. The universe waited for your arrival on your birthday. That’s right, everything shifted and fell into place just for you to get here. When you were on your way, during your mother’s labor, nobody in that hospital/birthing room mattered as much as YOU. You were the center of attention. The doctors, nurses, midwifes/doulas, your mommy…everyone in that room focused on you, your safety and survival. Listen, honey, Rhianna, Beyonce, Nikki Minaj, and any other famous person you can think of could have been in the hallway outside of that delivery room, and they would have not mattered. So you must remember and hold on to that truth everyday. Remember you were born with a purpose and the older you become, the more power you possess to live on purpose.

2. The media is NOT your mirror

You are bigger than an image. And you are not in competition nor have any need to conform to a standard of beauty which exalts your silky-haired, narrow nosed, purt-lipped, nasal-toned counterparts. There are some forces in the world that would have you turn down so they can turn up trying to BE like you. There is no need to pretend or exaggerate your worst behavior to be recognized. Be your best self. That is what will make a lasting and powerful impression.

3. Love yourself

Take time to pause all the static and noise from your iPod, TV, smartphone, magazines and even your friends. Ask yourself what you enjoy doing and what makes you happy. Write it in a journal.

4. Move beyond the block

Remember your zip code does not define YOU. Even though where you are from, city or neighborhood, can be a simultaneous badge of honor and shame, you must understand what you were born into is not who you were born to BE. Your current situation is just that…At this point, it is more than likely due to your parents choices/decisions. Your future depends on what you see for yourself. Visualize yourself in the space you want to be. Then everyday believe in your heart you are already there. Let every thought and action be considerate of that space. Step into it fully. Set the intention to grow there and blossom to your fullest.

5. Love your sisters.

“Girls keep up too much drama.” Heard it a million times and have to admit I have said it before, too. But that was before I realized what I speak of “girls” is what I am speaking of myself. So no more of that negative talk about other girls. We attract what we give to the universe. Stop the competitive behavior, do not believe that anyone can take any opportunity from you, what is for you, you will receive abundantly. (That goes for the cutie you are dating) Recognize in other girls the same good things you like about you. I promise you will get along much better.

6. Speak your name.

Say it LOUD. Think for a second of how special you were when your mother took the time to think of a phrase/name that would pour all her love into you, her precious gift. And no matter what ANYONE else says or thinks of YOUR name, you own it. It is the first thing you will ever own. Honor and respect why it was chosen for you.

7. Celebrate yourself.

I know you love to talk about your favorite celebrity. You follow them on IG and watch their YouTube channel all the time. You root for them to win all the awards. But it’s time to focus some of that energy on you. Standing in the mirror, honor yourself for all the good choices you made today. Take this moment to clap for yourself.

8. Game recognize game

Adults get it wrong. And we don’t have all the answers. But there are many of us who love and care about you. We want the very best for you and will use all our resources to get what you need. Look for mentors all around you whether it is a teacher, neighbor, librarian, church member, or coach. And when you see an adult who appeals to your ambition, it’s okay to ask questions about their life journey…what were some of their challenges and successes. On the other hand, when you see adults acting the fool, in real life or on TV, find another example to follow.

9. An Educated mind is the key to the world

Inquiring minds want to know! Ask questions about EVERYTHING. Why? How? You can find out anything you want to know just by reading credible and factual sources. (Books, Articles, etc). It’s fun to watch music videos, but look at some documentaries and read some historical fiction, too.

Each day you are alive and breathing the air of this earth you will hear and see messages that take your mind off of celebrating you. From the ads on the public transportation to the sounds coming from your iPods and smartphones, to the images bouncing before your eyes on the screens, it will all try to turn down your applause for that girl in the mirror. But if you practice the above, you are winning the game.

Shawty Lo’s Baby Mamas ain’t the problem…You are!

all-my-babies-mamasI’d been debating with myself for weeks whether or not to write this post. But then in the middle of the night the entire post  came to me fully written out…it was concise. It had the most perfect transitions and its prose rang with clarity. Of course this was all in my head sans pen and paper or laptop. So here I am trying to serve up something remotely as good to express my two cents on this Shawty Lo fiasco…and all the damnation that is Reality TV.

Early last year, along with Bessie Akuba of the She is Me Program, I co-founded #girlsmediachat. It was to be a Twitter chat to dissect and dialogue about the media images portraying and shaping girls’ identity. A few weeks in and it was the same…passionate, ambitious, creative and conscious sisters would tweet to death all that is wrong with media. Invariably reality TV was our angst. For obvious reasons. But if you need illustration, please reference any episode of Basketball WivesReal Housewives of AtlantaLove and Hip Hop or any variation of the aforementioned. There’s this trending word that the kids label it… Ratchet. Yes it is quite appropriate.

Well. I grew a bit weary of pointing out the ratchet on television. I’m so beyond it. It is taxing on my nerves, and makes me want to act out in ways that are so not befitting a passionate, ambitious, creative and conscious sister. Hmph…so I simply refused to watch the witchcraft. Thus what I am tagging the latest travesty to hit the airwaves titled Baby Mamas, and all ratchet forms of reality TV…it is witchcraft.

And seeing that I cannot realistically reach through my television, put a hex on their spells of ignorant pageantry nor shake some sense into any of these characters, I will do what my life assignment calls for. That is to lift up the ones I can touch, show them affirmative ways to communicate with other girls; be an example of how to honor their bodies and beings; and present tools that help them navigate the weird world of relationships sans mental manipulation, patriarchal oppression, misogyny, or physical abuse. Because my investment and energy moves beyond getting a show pulled. The bigger picture is to interrupt the behavioral patterns little girls are exhibiting today that lead them to become implicit in the witchcraft….go from girls to women behaving badly. We must touch the ones within our reach daily: that means the young sisters riding beside us on the buses/trains, baby girl who lives next door, your daughter’s playmates…and some of us need to check the little girl still inside of us. Ahem. Yes. I went there. Truth is what is on “reality TV” is played out live in living color in many homes with young girls as audience to adult women acting stupidly and making foolish, misguided decisions. I promise you I attended an event just last weekend with women who are college educated, many members of sororities with successful careers and who are MOTHERS refer to each other (out loud) using the B word as a term of endearment. For real. Who does that? Still in the midst of this was baby mama drama to boot. For real.It was all quite fascinating in a Discovery-Channel watching sort of way. But, sadly it was not a television show. It was indeed real with no cameras.

So again, I’m less frustrated with the tube these days. I want us to fix the everyday sister who believes its okay to address another girl/woman in any derogatory fashion. It is reckless dishonor to share a boy/man and engage in unprotected sex…no SEX PERIOD, knowing he shares his goodies with another. It is outright flagrant indecency to put your hands on another to express your anger or insecurities. Geez. The list of ratchet behavior is much too long…and quite frankly unproductive.
If the objective is to transform lives of our girls, this must be our priority. If not, we have only our real life selves to blame for what they see/hear in media.

Change the Game:

Sign the petitions like this one to get shows pulled from the air
Support organizations like Girls Like Me Project, Inc. book the workshops for your school/org.
Join the #notbuyingit movement to let advertisers really know how you feel about their endorsement of such foolishness

And on the last note, I have heard many people excuse the “entertainment industry” and “celebrities” of all accountability for being role models or accurately portraying the complex telling of the Black American experience, especially as it relates to our women and girls. Well. That is arguable, for some. What I do know for fact is that the “entertainment industry” is  yet a politically correct misnomer given to what we know is an exploitation monster. Given that, we should only expect the entertainment industry to exploit our lowest lows for profit. It is simply time we raise the bar.

How do you think we should raise the bar for our girls?

Love Taps: A Game that never was

Photo credits: Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot

Do you remember those old ladies from long ago? You know the ones who butted into your business and corrected you even though they didn’t know you or your parents? They sternly, but lovingly, gave you their unsolicited two cents about your words or behavior, daring you to go and tell your mother? Those nagging old ladies who you wished would just mind their own business and let you act a fool out in the streets away from your parents’ watchful eye…remember them?

I have to admit…I have turned into that nosey, nagging, old lady.

Maybe it’s because I spend an exorbitant amount of time surrounded by young people. Could be because I’m a mother myself, and so my antennas (in my Katt Williams voice) are sensitive to certain mannerisms and behaviors that somehow are adopted by children as proper behavior.

But when you spend so much time with children, you watch…and listen. You’ll see them mirroring behavior that if allowed to become habit will lead them to less than desirable lives. Not on my watch. I refuse to let a child slip through the cracks and BELIEVE it’s okay to be wayward and wild.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Ms. Crabtree-nitpicking at every little thing kids are doing. For instance, my 8th grade son was in front of his school talking to his buddy whose back was to me. My son saw me walking up, and a sly smile slid across his face. I wondered what nerdy conversation they were having (I proudly believe my son and his friends are nerds. Cool nerds, but nerds nonetheless. That is a wonderful thought to me, but I digress). Lo and behold when I get within earshot I hear the most explicit language coming from this boy’s mouth. I mean he used the worst racial slur, he had a couple of four-letter words in there and some multi-syllable ones for good measure. My son at this point is cracking up when his friend turns to see me and is totally shocked. I just give him a look as he throws his arms around me and tries to play it off. Awkward moment for sure.

In this instant, I don’t nag or lecture. Cursing, while definitely not actions of prideful gentlemen, it is also not a gateway to the penitentiary. Heck, when I was their age I could curse better than any tavern-goer. I was a pro. So that offense called for a mere reminder to choose words that you would be proud for your mother, friends’ mother, or any adult to hear because you never know who is near. Besides, I told him, use words that tell people how smart you are, that language is for small minds.

See, I’m not a meanie.

But there are some things I absolutely have zero tolerance for. Because let’s face it, some of our babies demonstrate behavior (the PC term is “at-risk” behaviors) that you can scope out their future in just six short years. Baby momma; juvenile ex-offender; recipient of a restraining order… you get the picture.

One thing I absolutely do not tolerate is physical “play” between boys and girls.

For some reason, hitting, pushing, pulling, slapping, and choking are passing as “play” among the children. When I see it, I can’t help myself, I pounce into action to redirect and point out how detrimental that type of “play” can be. I know where it can lead to: someone gets hit and then gets serious. The playing is no longer funny because hits become “real.” Also what I know is that most domestic violence cases start from situations like this.

Yet here is the real jaw-dropper. More times than not, the incidents like this that I’ve witnessed have been girls hitting boys. Almost all the time. This incenses me. For one thing, where are they learning to use their hands to communicate with the opposite sex? I rarely see girls hitting each other or slapping their girl friends, they save that only for “playing” with boys.

In fact, what prompted this post was a recent scene at my children’s school. An 8th grade girl (13-14 years old) turned toward the young man she was walking beside and landed a real quick slap to his face. I wasn’t sure if her hit landed or if my eyes were deceiving me, but sure enough she did it again, and again. The boy’s reaction was disturbingly reserved. My mind was racing with all the things wrong with the picture. Why is this child hitting this boy like she is manic? Why is he allowing her to hit him in his face? How is this acceptable behavior less than 50 feet from your school in broad daylight with teachers, parents and classmates around? And more importantly, what will happen to both of them if he decides to retaliate?

From the look on his face I knew my worst fear wasn’t unfounded. I jumped from my car and stepped in. The young lady (or maybe more appropriate to call her little girl) caught much attitude and tried to front me off (I’m giving away my age, I know). I didn’t go in on her, but I def let her know her behavior was NOT cool. That it was completely unacceptable. I also intend to follow up with the administration, as chair of the school’s community engagement/school climate committee, I’ll propose workshops on teen dating violence for students AND parents. Oh, baby girl should trust, it’s not over.

See my biggest issue is 1.) girls get trapped into this cycle of violence simply from a place of seeking emotional validation. Being hit (for some crazy reason) is seen as showing affection or love. It only escalates as they get older so they are involved with boys who also have the idea of affection twisted 2.) boys are taught not to hit girls, that that is a most egregious offense. Yet when they are being hit, no one steps in to advocate for them or to reprimand the girl.

My mind gave a lens into a potential future for this child who hit this boy, left on the side of a road in the dark of night with black eyes and busted lip abandoned and victim to her boyfriend who she has played hitting games with since she met him. The residual shame, physical and emotional wounds will not heal easily and could follow her into every relationship she ever has. It will reach her children, and the cycle continues.

I also see the future of the boys who play these games. That rush of adrenaline and aggressive testosterone will over take him while his buddies tease him about being hit by a girl or a girl fronting on him, the need to “check” his playmate/girlfriend, until his actions have him spiraling out of control in a rage that leaves his play mate in serious condition and him locked away in a jail cell.

This is real.

This is why I do not tolerate anybody, male or female, putting their hands on others. It is not the way to play.

Hitting games…homegirl don’t play that!

Am I being too extreme? What are your non-compromise zones for youth/teens?

Did you know:

  • Across CDC studies, 15-40% of youth report PERPETRATING some form of violence towards a boyfriend/ girlfriend
  • Perpetrating dating violence in adolescence increases the risk of perpetrating violence toward a partner in adulthood

Are you around teens? Recognize the signs…

Click here for research and stats

Check out more teen dating facts from CDC

Raise awareness- February is National Teen Dating Violence Prevention & Awareness Month