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?

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.

You can’t consume beauty: Lupita…an image of hope!

And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade in that beauty. ” Lupita Nyong’o-Essence Women in Hollywood 

Courtesy of chikaoduahblog.com

Courtesy of chikaoduahblog.com

Her face is everywhere these days…whether you have seen the film that catapulted her onto magazine covers and household television screens, or if you rely on newscasters to help you pronounce her name, one thing is for sure: the world knows Lupita, Oscar-winning actress…and wounded healer.

It’s funny…this game of life in our society. Just one instance can land us in our dreams, exalted by the masses despite ourselves. Never mind the struggles we have on the climb up, the nightmares that can include half a girlhood spent in self-loathing for not fitting the beauty standards of the western world, for being  poor, being uneducated….for just not being anything other than yourself.

Still, the right lighting or role, a chance conversation tucks all that in and the world is now ready to accept you, sans your struggle.

And so many buy into it, never to speak of their struggle; either they surgically deny it or cover it up with glitter and studded diamonds, entourages and pseudo diva attitudes. So when one uses their platform, as Lupita has, to boldly acknowledge her struggle and her journey to self love; it is rather shocking when that bold nature is then used as a springboard for a few (well now a worldwide movement) to insist on feeding a beast that too often exploits and  conflates the value of those who consume its fruit…yes I’m talking the #LupitaForMac campaign.

Very astute and influential Black WOMEN took to twitter and IG to assemble the bandwagon calling for MAC cosmetic company to create a Lupita line, which was well received…the call was directed to the Mac Cosmetics Twitter account. Not quite certain if MAC has answered, however that is not the point of this piece.

And let me state for the record, I AM NOT AGAINST MAC CREATING A LINE FOR LUPITA NYONG’O.

This is not that.

However, I want us to consider Lupita’s speech delivered at the Essence Women of Hollywood Luncheon. She had a message for young girls, those girls like herself who are struggling to love what the mirror says beyond what media spins about beauty. As she stated with much conviction, “beauty cannot be consumed” and “…get to the deeper business inside…”

These phrases push me to plead with our sisters, the ones who have healed the “ugly scar” of self hatred, the ones whose frequent shopping splurges easily take them into department stores with shiny and colorful makeup counters, lip-gloss popping and foundation dabbing at counters boldly proclaiming brands like MAC, Clinique, Estee Lauder, etc. That these ladies might remember the wounded girl child still in search of the love on the inside. The young girl whose idea of shopping for makeup and beauty products rarely if ever involve revolving doors opening to a world of shining glamour but more likely than not relegated to peering through  dimly-lit, crowded shelves of an asian-owned beauty supply store. Stores which upon her entry, demand she leave all her bags at the front counter and only allow her one companion at a time. She gives up her hard to come by dollars only to receive little respect in return.

Let’s change this narrative. Let us put out the call for girls who love chemistry sets and those who love makeup to do a mashup and create a line of makeup which Lupita (or any number of high-profile Black women) can endorse. Let us apply the “for us by us” philosophy and BUSINESS model.

I’m willing to bet somewhere out there a girl has been mixing colors and products trying to get the right look for her skin tone. She’s been giving it away as gifts to loved ones and probably selling a few jars here and there. Imagine the boost her enterprising dream would get if she were to be discovered and pushed as so many do for brand names like MAC.

But I know I am probably being unrealistic, right? I mean who cares about those girls, after all, this is about the ones who can AFFORD MAC anyway. Right? Well….okay. I get it. I know what it is, especially when I see the comparative statements regarding Lorde’s new Mac line as justification to why Lupita deserves it. Hmmm, we cannot escape it no matter how hard we try; the deserving, good-enough factor always creeps in.

Still, I’d hope if the push continues for #LupitaforMac that there are a few other asks to be considered, such as:

  • Proceeds go towards scholarship for African-American girls studying chemistry
  • A reality show is created to discover the next make-up artist (hey why not, they have cake baking shows, home decorating, fashion designer, etc.) The prize is an internship/job working on the next MAC line for Lupita
  • Proceeds benefit summer camps for girls of color that fortifies self-esteem and beauty beyond the external

Of course this is only the way I must view things, as I have too much engagement with girls like me who are growing up in poverty and limiting environments. I know they need a deeper connection.

I’m known to be a little intense. Perhaps this is the case here. What do you think? And when you have a moment, do a Google image search of the terms, “black girls makeup beauty toy set.” Are you shocked that there is not one picture of Black girls playing in makeup? Leave off the toy set and see what you get? Surprised? Will we, too continue to lock out of beauty dreams?

Please share any organizations or programs that focus on girls STEM and enterprise, especially related to chemistry.

Here’s Lupita’s full speech:

Where do we go from here?

The World's Fallen Angel, Hadiya Pendleton
The senseless murder of Hadiya Pendleton finally captured the attention of the nation. Heartbreaking and tragic, her death attracted thousands of mourners to her home going celebration. The sanctuary filled to capacity included First Lady, Michelle Obama; Mayor Rahm Emanuel; Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and a host of “dignitaries.” There had to be a designated standing-room only overflow section, while still hundreds more lined the street outside to pay their respects. It was a ceremony fit for a princess…our sweet angel Hadiya was laid to rest in a royal purple gown, her high school band playing for her ‘til the end.

Initially, outrage and frustration at the lack of urgency in response to the senseless violence taking the young and innocent from Chicago as well as countless urban cities around the country prompted me to ask How many dead Black Children does it take to get a Sandy Hook response?

And the Black Youth Project started a petition to summon President Obama to come home and deliver a speech on gun violence. garnering more than 45,000 signatures, the petition seemed to have worked. POTUS will be in Chicago on Friday, February 15, 2013 to answer the call.

If we know our POTUS, we know the man is eloquent with the wordplay. His speeches can ignite the most stubborn will, inspire hopeless apathy, and challenge the harshest critics. This is what we come to expect from the 44th President of the United States.

But what happens after the speech.

Where do we go from here? It is commendable for BYP to demand POTUS address gun violence, yet we know all too well that what has cost us the lives of so many of our young children is much bigger and drastically more complex than gun violence. For the last time all eyes were on Chicago for the brutal murder of one of our babies was in 2009 when Derrion Albert was beaten to death and speeches were given, funds proposed. No gun play involved in that heinous homicide. In fact, let’s really look at the crime stats of homicides in Chicago. Lives are taken by those wielding deadly fists, knives, boulders, pipes, sticks, and yes guns.

See gun violence is symptomatic of the myriad of social issues infiltrating the poor Black and brown neighborhoods of Chicago. Systematic injustices designed more than 50+ years ago are now manifesting. It’s a spider web of oppression which has turned in on itself.

So yes, the POTUS should definitely come to Chicago and hold up the mirror to our nation…force us all to peer at the ugliness racism, segregation, forced evictions, criminalization, war on drugs, unemployment, failed public education reform, and host of human rights violations that our governments sanction with failed policy after another. Gun violence, then, should be but a fragment of the conversation.

Still after we gaze purposefully in that mirror, how about we come back to the table with intentional change. There needs to be a federal commission to research and investigate what causes urban violence in concentrated areas of our major cities. The answers won’t be so pretty and neat, I can guarantee.

Then there absolutely must be infrastructual supports in the form funding for jobs; recreational zones; urban youth development.

A major component that absolutely cannot wait is support for mental health prevention/treatment. Our babies have been through trauma! Living under siege of gun fire where a walk to school can result in death of you or a friend; seeing blood splatter from a body sprayed by gun fire on your corner? Can anyone deny our children are dealing with PTSD?

And then the people. Our people. Those who have lost sons and daughters to the madness. The victims….and the perpetrators of crime. The everyday people.

It is time to be our own vanguard. It is time for us to build our own institutions with education and culture at the forefront; where every Black youth-serving organization/agency synchronizes and collaborates to bring about effective and SUSTAINABLE investment. We are overdue to reinstate the village concept where every stable minded adult is mentoring and nurturing at least one young person outside of their immediate family. The time is now for churches to move their private “classist” ministries (undercover social clubs) from within the four walls of their “sanctuary” to the streets. The clock has struck on the hour for the college-educated business folks to show up at work in the community. It is high time our academia with its scholarly debates to move the dialogue beyond the college campuses and lecture halls to the classrooms in the hood. Time for mothers and grannies to practice tough love. And we are almost out of time for fathers to repent and restore their homes.

The alarm is ringing!

Don’t ignore, or else you will soon answer that dreadful call saying this time it has touched your household.

Please, let us not allow this child’s life to have been in vain. Let her death be the catalyst that shines light through the oppressive fog we find our community today so that we honor all of our children, the fallen and the survivors.