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.

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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.

Fly Girls & Globetrotters

Photo credits Salvatore Vuono

Growing up, girls like me reign supreme in our concrete jungles. Our landscape is complete with storefront churches and rib shacks; vacant lots; its where chain linked-fences serve as a gateway to play lots filled with broken glass, discarded and burnt-out crack pipes amid haphazard swing sets; cars drive by with the booming system pumping our soundtrack. We run and we play, we pretend and fight, we jump double Dutch and sneak to grind with boys behind school lots. Society labels us ghetto queens. And here is where we reign supreme.

In this place, though, is a homegrown love that is connected to something so deep, it surpasses the memory of time. The inherent rhythm and soul of our domicile has been swept across continents, spread on rich and thick all over the Diaspora. We’ve transplanted the spirit to create little African villages and Spanish Harlems amongst ourselves in urban cities. It is so real, we “ghetto queens” are right at home…never imagining feeling so content and supreme anywhere else on the planet.

Thankfully, public libraries are also found nestled on our blocks. And for me, libraries became my world expansion. In fact, it was one of my favorite television programs, Reading Rainbows, which promised me I could go anywhere if I just read books. And so I did. I read and read and read books of fiction and especially autobiographies. Anyone willing to share their story bound up in a book I read. I stowed away with Maya Angelou to go west with her from Stamps, Arkansas to San Francisco, and then moved as an ex-pat in Ghana. I traveled with Malcolm X across northern Africa. Never mind what my birth certificate stated, I was right beside Zora Neale Hurston in the everglades of Florida, shaking my skinny legs in Haiti, and writing in a Harlem flat. It took a lot of courage for my young self, but I braved the horrors of lynch talk and went with Ida B. Wells to speak truth to power.

I hated to put my books down. Reading was not just a reprieve it was my window to a future of hope and possibility. Don’t get me wrong, navigating my way through the ghetto (the PC term now is urban America) I encountered powerful women. My childhood church home of Pilgrim Baptist Church connected me to beautiful and intelligent women who were legacy builders; like Mrs. Bernadine Washington, one of the first Black female radio personalities on legendary WVON. Senator Margaret Smith sat in a pew of my church every Sunday. Jackie Vaughn lead fights for labor equality and loved all the children with a passion. The principal of my middle school, Mrs. Yvonne Minor was not only beautiful to me, but her vision for what we could be and where we could go BECAUSE we were ghetto queens lead her to invest in us and regularly bring in living examples of women who also grew up girls like me. They too shared their stories of the places they’d been and what they’d accomplished.

Because of all these things, I knew where home was and the invaluable comfort of its terrain. Still there was much more out on the horizon and I owed it to myself to see it. And to an extent, I have.

I’ve been a few places, Los Angeles to live as an intern when I was 21; Washington D.C. to visit Howard University and then a few more times as an activist and for business; New Orleans to participate in a bowling tournament as a teen then later to party for Essence Festival 2011; Oakland for A New Way Forward; New York for family leisure and then again on business; Indianapolis to visit my paternal grandfather’s family—on a whim he’d strap my sister and I in the back seat and hit the road in the middle of the night; Salt Lake City, Utah; Detroit and Lousiville, Kentucky for more bowling; Memphis for family vacations and later on business; Daytona, Tampa, and Ft. Lauderdale for fun in Florida Sun- Busch Gardens was awesome; Las Vegas was my most grand trip of all, I stayed a week in luxury at the Encore/Wynn; also Atlanta-which is easily one of my favorite cities outside of my ghetto queendom of ChiTown.

While my travels have introduced me to different sights, they only serve as variations of the same thing. With the exception of my excursions to Jamaica: Montego Bay, Ochos Rios and Negril, I thirst to be exposed to cultural history, a deeper, spiritual connection to birthplaces of our soul. I have dreamed of the days when I would be able to make real journeys to the places I have read about, Ghana, Haiti, Liberia, Morocco, Kenya, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Brazil and so much more. I envision the stories I will be able to share with girls like me sitting in libraries today dreaming up their own futures.

Today I have a blueprint to realizing my dreams. Not only can I still read the books, but there are real life women who are my peers, and some younger, who are globetrotters. I was ecstatic to discover The Women of Color Travel Project, which shares inspiring stories from women who live intrepid lives full of adventure and bold living.

I would be remiss if I didn’t admit one of the cofounders is my personal friend and shero Zahra Alabanza. Zahra has been everywhere! Biking from Chicago to Detroit, building and giving in Haiti, backpacking in South America, documenting children living with HIV/AIDS in Africa. Her journeys are powerful! I love living vicariously through her!

Of course there are more stories like Zahra’s. The Women of Color Travel Project will allow us all to share cultural exchanges. If you travel or know any other women of color who travel, please submit your stories. There are so many lives waiting to be powered forward through your testimony….just with a passport and backpack, girls like me can truly be fly! I cannot wait to see little girls sitting in libraries and reading all about you in the Project’s companion anthology.

So tell me, where have you been and where do you plan to go? What are your travel recommendations for girls like me?