If not sisters keeper, perhaps daughters protector?

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Before the world heard the names Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis or Tamir Rice, little 7 year old Aiyanna Stanley Jones was slaughtered as she lay asleep on her grandmother’s couch. The victim of a police raid gone fatally wrong.

But even if little Aiyanna would have survived, given statistics she would have joined the legions of her peers…little girls who remain living in the grips of American injustice that overtakes their Black lives like a vapor one way or another.

Another way… the way it descended on the innocence of a 4 year old baby girl whose quick trip home from the grocery store with her mother and bonus dad left her witness to a heinous murder. One where she sat in the backseat watching the blood spill and the life leave her mother’s boyfriend, Philando Castile, who right before her eyes had been pumped with three bullets by an  “officer friendly” impersonator.  Out from that unerasable, ugly scene baby girl’s voice comes as a saving grace. She consoles her mother, Diamond Reynolds, “It’s OK, I’m right here with you.”

This is our truth. Our baby girls are right here with us in the thick of this war declared by those who seek to maintain white superiority. It is a war that has left Black girls in urban America as collateral damage. It pronounced itself when four little girls were bombed in a Birmingham Baptist church on a Sunday morning in September 1963.

Now given our reality today, I wonder if the world, including Black America, is ready to make a proclamation regarding Black girls. Although many don’t find it imperative that the sisters need keeping, perhaps we can now resolve the obvious… that our daughters are in dire need of protecting.

Because they are right here with us, psyches devastated from witnessing police brandishing guns, savagely beating and massacring Black daddies right before their eyes. Right here attempting to experience girlhood in the stranglehold of communities suffering with economic dehydration. Right here, where their innocent childhood is abbreviated by poverty and chaotic violence.

And while summits and conferences around the country may tout achievements made by some women and girls, the war to maintain white superiority has been waged with take no prisoners gusto on marginalized communities leaving everyone in its path is affected. It’s methodical strategy annihilates the fabric of order and peace. Its contexture weaves and intersects safe havens. So much so that a 6 year old, like little Tacarra Morgan, sitting on her front porch in the middle of a Summer day is left fighting for her life after becoming the latest victim of a turf battle.  

What is this new normal we are allowing for our baby girls? This reality of war where they very much imagine their life to be shattered by violence, to be introduced without distinction to the real life bogey man…some with badges, but certainly all with guns. Some endowed with license, some sharing bloodlines. Some in white tees. Many in tailored suits slashing budgets with pens dripping in blood.

We know the bad guys. No matter their uniform, each one culpable in the demise of Black girlhood.

The question is who is protecting our girls?

When will government create/implement policies that ensure the safety in urban communities? Which institutions that have benefited from generational agony will devise an economic plan to fortify the development of our girls? What level of investment will the privileged make for our girls to realize the promise of the pursuit of happiness? What commitment will family and neighbors pledge to their well being?

Answers must soon come. There needs to be an infusion of all of the above right now. Our girls, who by no fault nor default of their own design have been the outliers. Born below the scratch line, their chances for success debilitated.

Can we all agree that irrespective of assigned zip codes or the configuration of their social security numbers, Black girls in America deserve to experience the full promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I make the commitment. Will you join me?

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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.

 

Institutionalized Orgs must embrace Black Girls Rock movement

Courtesy of Voices of America

Courtesy of Voices of America

It’s been a necessary declaration, yet starkly absent from our association since our ancestors were forcefully brought to these shores more than 300 years ago. It’s been covertly hidden in the white lie to the detriment of a Black truth. But thankfully since 2011, it has made its way to back into the light…a rekindling of a flame of sorts; a national movement and hashtag. Black Girls Rock! This is the mantra that has put a shine back into the smiles of little Black girls and has restored hope in the legacy of Black women. First as a philanthropic endeavor of Model/DJ, Beverly Bonds, it is now a nationally televised awards show which commands full attention on behalf of who? Black Girls!

And while this reclaimed pride has been met with some petty outcries from those who claim it as reverse discrimination and unfair to single Black girls out for affirmation, the movement will not be silenced. Although the outrage garnered its own hashtag, #WhiteGirlsRock, it can’t undo the entitlement Black girls now have to concepts of inspiration and empowerment.

Many have begrudged FLOTUS Michelle Obama, for embracing and yes, promoting the Black Girls Rock sentiment. Even while she is a mother to two Black girls. On the other hand, it was quite fine for Nancy Reagan to categorically single out Black children for her “Just say no” campaign. But that is another blog for another time.

Still, with plenty of cause to explain how ludicrous (and sad) that type of petty Black Girls Rock outrage is, Dr. Stacy Patton has already given thee best read of all time on the subject, so I won’t digress.

However what I am here to say is, it is high time for girl-serving institutions and organizations to do a self assessment and analyze if the execution of their mission has negligently hampered Black Girls’ individuality or ability to fully rock their Blackness. What does that mean? Often times, diversity does not involve intentional inclusion where Black girls are allowed to bring their whole selves into an organization that has traditionally served predominantly White populations.  They must dial back their voices and language. Their creativity is repressed. And it is not uncommon that they be punished (even criminalized) for expressing any range of human emotions that show anger, depression, sadness, or dissatisfaction. This is illustrated in the recent findings of the African American Policy Forum’s report, Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected.

Not sure if this applies to you? Here are a few checkpoints to see if you need an initiation into the Black Girls Rock world…

  • Does your organization use culturally relevant materials, either as learning or marketing tools? Can Black girls of all walks of life relate to your programs? Do you showcase Black girls in ways that make them starkly obtuse
  • Do you provide opportunities for cultural exchanges?
  • Do instances of upliftment outnumber those of admonishment of Black girls?
  • Do you regularly have conversations around race that are neutrally moderated?

If you’ve answered no to any of the above, I offer you a passport into the #BlackGirlsRock world. For a full tour and guide, please follow @MrsgirlsLikeMe on Twitter. Also, check out Voices of Advocacy Radio for more tips and resources from our expert guests. In the meantime, I’d love to hear any successes OR any barriers you have encountered in intentionally engaging Black girls.

Courtesy of BrandNewz.com

Courtesy of BrandNewz.com

La’Keisha Gray-Sewell, is a nationally recognized urban girls inclusion advocate, media literacy expert and speaker, whose transformative programs and trainings empower girls to navigate beyond stereotypes to become global legacy builders.  She is available to facilitate faculty trainings on Diversity and Inclusion. She also facilitates media literacy and empowerment workshops for urban girls as a part of her Girls Like Me Project curriculum.

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.

Disconnect. Denial. Bloodshed: When losing a generation is not enough

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You feel a depth of pain that at first snags your heart and you cry tears of sadness. Then an angry sensation sears  through your nervous system…it is a state of existence that seems quite normal if one lives in Chicago and is in tune with the events of the hood or just regularly watches the news. All of it seems to settle with a big depressing thud right in the middle of your spirit and you ask yourself how many more? What can I do? Why? How?

The loss of life is never any less senseless in situations where children are involved…never a way to make sense of the insanity, even after the 50th child is murdered within the first four months of 2014.

Such is the case upon hearing the news that 14 year old Endia Martin was shot to death, by her 14 year old former friend; an argument over a boy taken to the streets from a Facebook beef.

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The anger consumes you and you want somebody to pay for the absolutely deranged order of things. Whereby kids are no longer arguing and having a fist fight but cocking back and following through with pulling a trigger to not only shoot at, but shoot again until the victim falls like action in a video game. But it is not a game. No brilliant sounds  or lights signaling the score or proclaiming a winner. It is real. And the only sounds and flashing lights come from the ambulance and police cars…no winners. Two lives lost in a minute of thoughtless aggression.

chicago-violence-juvenilesIt is the reality facing our babies on the south and west sides of Chicago whose common denominators are the color of their skin and proximity to poverty.

You become depressed when you know full well that little 14 year old girls 20 miles away in Edgewater and Ravenswood are having catty arguments over boys and other such juvenile melodramas…and yes they are engaging in cyber-cat fights and bullying. Ridiculous selfies that are ripe for 20/20 hindsight…and you wish, really pray hard for the times when the girls in your community could have a life so simple…where they can be assured that no matter what, a violent death is possible yet not highly probable.

Why is that?

Heartbreaking that Endia Martin will never get to realize her dream of traveling the world…she’ll never follow in her mother’s footsteps to become a nurse and possibly a physician. She is dead. A bullet struck her petite body. Blood spilled from her body. She lay lifeless, zipped into a plastic bag and carried to a coroner. Do you FEEL THAT?!? It is not just news, this is happening to a family, to teenagers who have to return to the same school, same streets as she just walked the day before.

And to add unto the tragedy the accused shooter, another 14 year old girl, was handed the gun by her adult uncle…and another family member helped unjam the gun after her first attempt. She then had to stand alone, no family, nobody who cared enough to stand with her as her fate is dictated to her by the court system.

So much screams at us that we are completely off track if in fact we truly CARE about the lives of our children.

Here’s the deal.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently gave public statements questioning the morals and values of the families/parents of people who shoot/kill others. Okay. I’ll give you that..if you also apply the same theory to the families/parents of those who shot up Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and other such incidences.

All the values in the world, all the compassion and dreams can be smothered to death when lack, and want and survival are suffocated without their airline of resources.

So now here’s where you should stop reading if any diversion from political correctness makes you uncomfortable.

That was your warning.

STFU about values, STFU telling kids they are the future…just STFU if you are not present in the lives of any children who do not share your blood line. STFU if you had any part in the closing of 54 schools located within the most desperate communities of our city. STFU if you have had any part in the dismantling of the family structure with policies that castigate fathers and harden mothers. STFU if you are producing/playing/dancing to spirit killing music and not reading to your children. STFU if you shake your head, pack up your family and move away without planting seeds for growth within the ones still behind. STFU if you have not asked for accountability beyond a press conference and photo opp with politicians and celebrities.

EVERYONE READING THIS HAS A RESPONSIBILITY TO SAVE OUR CHILDREN!

How? Here a few ways to begin…

 

There are never enough ideas or ways to transform our community and save our babies! If you have more to add, please feel free to share!

 

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.

Wearing Orange- For Hadiya and all our babies!

544276_10151821023684552_1267127514_nWhen hunters go into the forest, to protect themselves from unintended gun fire they wear orange. Orange, a bright and vibrant color, keeps hunters safe in an environment blasting of guns and lethal bullets flying. Sadly, our young children in urban America are living out their innocence in an identical reality…in the midst of gun shots and whizzing, life-taking bullets.

All too well, the evening news has familiarized us with the names of the young lives we’ve lost, now included as statistics of random gun violence. There is one whose name and legacy sparked a movement to keep our children safe…to keep stray bullets from snatching innocence.

Miss KLyn (one Hadiya's MANY best friends) repping Project Orange at GLMPI Pampered Power Talk

Miss KLyn (one of Hadiya’s MANY best friends) repping Project Orange at GLMPI Pampered Power Talk: I’ve got my Orange button ready for April1st!

Hadiya Pendleton’s devastating murder prompted her former classmates and friends to create Project Orange Tree.  In their own words on Project Orange Tree Facebook page, the campaign…

“Project Orange Tree is an awareness campaign that focuses on educating youth about violence and its roots (structural violence). It is completely ran by teens of Chicago and is in close affiliation with the Lupe Fiasco Foundation. The color orange is used because hunters wear the color to warn other hunters not to shoot. We took that same concept and applied it to the violence in Chicago. We used the tree because it represents both life and prosperity. Incorporating both the color orange and the tree we created: Project Orange Tree.

Most of the victims that died in the year 2012 were innocent bystanders. By wearing orange on April 1st we are showing others that we are human and wish not be gunned down, because bullets do not discriminate against race, age, or sexual orientation. Gun Violence has become an epidemic, and will soon result in genocide, especially in the African American community.

“Structural violence refers to systematic ways in which social structures harm or otherwise disadvantage individuals. Structural violence is subtle, often invisible, and often has no one specific person who can (or will) be held responsible.” By raising awareness about how structural violence directly affects deviant behavior we can slow down gun violence in Chicago. The people have to realize that gun violence is a result of how the government has manipulated variables that put us in cramped homes, land us in food deserts, and gives us poor educational opportunities, all resulting in deviant behavior.

In order to make a difference, the citizens of the world have to correctly identify the root problem of violence, and find ways fix them, or build a bridge over it. Project Orange Tree is doing this.

Wearing orange on April 1st will create unity amongst all races, ages, genders, and economic statuses, while providing awareness about structural violence, ultimately creating a central mindset: Peace on earth.”

My organization, Girls Like Me Project, Inc. is standing in solidarity with these young people. My entire house hold will be wearing orange today (April 1).

There is more to be done whether in Chicago or other cities.

Follow @Pro_orangeTree on Twitter

Like Project Orange Tree on Facebook

Post pictures of you wearing orange to social networks

If you are in Chicago, I’ll see you tonight at Chicago State University for Word Is Balm where Project Orange Tree’s young people will be on the mic.

Bless the children who have a vision. Guide the adults who are the example.

Heal our community! Project Orange Tree is our way forward!

How many dead Black children does it take to get a Sandy Hook response?

Hadiya Pendleton, 15 years old. Shot and killed by senseless gun violence in Chicagp

Hadiya Pendleton, 15 years old. Shot and killed by senseless gun violence in Chicago

Do you remember? Remember when you were young and carefree? Think back on how excited you would have been with an early dismissal from school into warm weather and a park nearby. Remember wanting to just cool out for a minute, hang on to the laughter and silly antics of  your friends before heading home to chores and studying? Time travel to the time when life was so full and promising, back when you had the zeal and energy to really live it?

How old were you back then? When did that all end for you?

Well for Hadiya Pendleton 15years old was her time. A baby really, just getting her taste of life’s promises. A scholar attending King Preparatory High School on the south side of Chicago. An enthusiastic student, a member of her school’s volley ball team and it’s band that just performed at President Obama’s Inauguration, a trip to Paris on the horizon as a part of an exchange program. Young and carefree, yet it ended much too soon for Hadiya. Her young life snatched just as she was getting to the good part; her life counted in the number of children whose lives have been cut down before they could really fully create a memory.

Could we all please stop and really imagine what it must be like to send your child off to school and the next time you see them they are in a body bag? Pause to connect how it must feel to have your friend killed doing the very things you take for granted? Each one of us had better take a moment to get a full understanding of the trauma our kids face and how it is manifesting in their lives. Time for us to get a clue!

In America, land of the free and home of the brave, your zip code dictates your life worth. As I pen this post and watch the Senate hearings on gun control, I am reminded of the scene from the movie, Boyz In The Hood, where Ice Cube’s character, Dough Boy says “…either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.”

That was just a movie. But apparently art imitates life. During these hearings they continuously refer to the massacre at Sandy Hook. Congresswoman Giffords testifies about how gun violence has ripped apart her life. Law enforcement officials share statistics and plead on behalf of domestic violence victims.  They have even interjected into the hearings breaking news of a shooting in Arizona. But no mention of Hadiya nor the hundreds of young children in urban cities who have lost their lives to gun violence.

I had to laugh to keep from crying when a news break came on to report a man  has lost his life in an unseasonable tornado storm… Another report on a girl half way around the world in Pakistan who was shot in the head and is receiving a titanium plate….

Meanwhile, here in our own country, within one month of the atrocious murders of 20 students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, legislation has popped up across the country and a specific “Sandy Hook Bill” proposed in our Federal government. Let’s not forget the relief fund for Sandy Hook victims/survivors.

Yet, for the more than 600 children slaughtered across the city of Chicago in the last five years, nor for the thousands slain in the urban cities across this country, there is no national outrage or grieving.

And for that, America should be ashamed. It begs the question: how many dead Black children does it take to get a Sandy Hook response?

Rest in peace sweet Hadiya.

hadiya-pendletonOur children, our battle:

Please “like” the R.I.P Hadiya page her  friends have created

We can’t continue waiting for the calvary or a super hero. These are Black children and we must fight this battle for our babies. We need a movement! What will the movement entail? I don’t know…

Some are calling for a boycott of Chicago until the City approaches this epidemic with urgency. That means no tourism, no shopping on the peaceful Mag Mile; which by the way is less than 10 miles away from where our children live under siege of gun fire and oppressed by failing schools. Still others call for Marshall Law. And then there is our mental healing. Obviously we need the counseling and therapy centers that the State of Illinois closed to be reopened. We need clinical therapists in the schools.

One immediate solution to heal what is killing us is mentoring. Please join National CARES Mentoring Movement, Inc. and mentor to save more lives. 

I have gotten lots of call, texts and FB messages for people on the ground ready to organize. Let’s go!

And if you are not in Chicago, please refrain from the sensational tweets and comments and HELP! Come out and get to work. Contact our Mayor and/or aldermen.

As Susan L. Taylor so passionately reminds us, “The village is on fire!” We need our people to to put it out.

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?

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?