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.

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Summer Hot Reads

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Whether a parent or teacher, if you have had to spend more than 30 minutes in the presence of an adolescent girl, I’m sure you’ve heard these words…”I’m bored…” or “It is soooo boring…” or “It’s nothing to do…”

Well, there is no better time than the “nothing to do” days of summer to encourage our girls to lose themselves in a book adventure.

If getting them out of our hair is not motivation enough to put a book into their hands, perhaps realizing how an unfocused summer can pose a threat to their development will be the reason.

While it is certainly a time for leisure and relaxation, summer is also the season when children from disenfranchised communities experience a detrimental loss of learning. In fact, The Center for Summer Learning shared a report which states young people can lose up to 3 months of learning during their summer vacation.  Irrespective of income level, if young people are not as academically stimulated during summer as they are during the school year, they will not retain what they ended the school year knowing.

That alone is reason enough for me to compile a Summer Hot Reads reading list for Girls Like Me… that and my absolute love of reading. Now I admit, I have a selfish motive, too. I mean, for me there is nothing more appealing than sitting curled up with a book in my hand. I want so desperately to inject the reading bug into all girls…after all, I truly believe reading is power.

Still, not every girl will independently choose turning pages over uploading pics to Instagram, creating dancing vids for YouTube, giggling on stoops and porches with their friends, or hanging at the air conditioned malls. Yet, I am confident if we add some engaging, culturally relevant titles to their reading elixir, they’ll be captivated by stories that hold a space for characters they identify with and connect to.

So without further ado, here is the GLMPI Summer Hot Reads reading list (updated June 3, 2015):

5-8th grade

One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia 

The Skin I’m In, Sharon G. Flake

Standing Against the Wind, Traci L. Jones

The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros

Ninth Ward, Jewell Parker Rhodes

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, Misty Copeland

Last Summer with Maizon, Jacqueline Woodson

Girls Like Us, Gail Giles

8-12th grade

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson

Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Rayla 2212, Ytasha Womack

Ship of Souls, Zetta Elliott

Cornered, an anthology edited by Rhoda Belleza

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Upstate, Kalisha Buckhanan

Assata: An Autobiography

Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood

On the Line, Serena Williams

The Other Side of Paradise, Staceyann Chin

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

To make sure girls are getting the most out of their reading experience:

Have girls perform scenes from their book! Or record an video summary and upload to YouTube like like this one:

  • Reading is a great activity to share with you the girl you mentor! Make visits to the library a part of your engagement time.
  • And be encouraged to start a book club with a few of the girls on your block, or youth members of your church/community center.

Happy reading!

P.S. Please share any other hot read recommendations in the comments. Thanks a million!

Shutting Down Rape Culture and Chief Keef at CPS Proms

Delivering 522 signatures  to CPS to ban rape culture from proms and school functions

Delivering 522 signatures to CPS to ban rape culture from proms and school functions

Girls deserve to BE and FEEL safe. That’s it. That’s all. Especially in spaces that are sanctioned by adults. Especially in institutions whose primary purpose is to advance their development and well being.

So moving the needle forward, my initial utter disgust and shock at the heinous lyrics of yet another Chief Keef song prompted a petition to ban his music from Chicago Public School proms and other school events. We were very successful in exceeding our target of 500 signatures. Not only did we get those signatures, but local and national media helped facilitate the discussion. The petition had amazing support from Moms Rising, a vanguard in issues that pertain to mother’s rights and issues as well as policy.

In the midst of the momentum of growing support for this particular petition, CPS made an unprecedented move  to become the first district in the nation to mass-close 50 schools, a move that will surely affect safety, academic pursuit, and socialization of Black and Brown students. This politically charged turmoil almost daunted our focus. But with wisdom and encouragement from Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka (a Mom’s Rising Fellow) we pressed forward and delivered the signatures; trusting that for this cause, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett along with other CPS officials will take heed to public opinion and yield to moral obligation to ensure girls are safe; safe from verbal assault, safe fro the threat of rape and sexual violence, safe among male students.

Our timing could not be better, because it appears Chief Keef is hell bent on publicly threatening any woman/girl he comes in contact with sexual violence and battery…His latest was a violent rant against pop celebrity, Katy Perry. Clearly he is a socio-path. Yet while it may be a slow battle to get his songs removed from radio airwaves, we are taking the small steps to disempower he bravado, and mic check his dangerous platform. Not only are we demanding all of our children not be exposed to music that promotes rape culture, we are also emphasizing the need to implement cultural programming in schools that allow students to become media literate…to provide a critical lens by which our young people perceive media messages.

While our students have to navigate treacherous streets on their way to school, we affirm it only right they be kept safe inside the building and spaces occupied for CPS functions.

  1. We want media literacy programs in schools such as programs facilitated by Girls Like Me Project, Inc.
  2. DJ/Audio entertainers hired by school administrators must adhere to policy developed for & in collaboration with students which outlines SPECIFICALLY what rape culture encompasses
  3. CPS must adequately support music/arts programs which foster positive outlet of creativity for its students
  4. Parents and adults must take an active role in understanding how to manage their child’s media intake
  5. Schools should host forums to discuss social implications behind music that promotes rape culture
  6. Join national campaigns against rape culture in media, like Fostering Activism and Alternatives Now Mail (FAAN Mail) Talk Back movement 

We know CPS can shut down anything it puts its mind to…it is time they shut down Chief Keef and all music that promotes sexual violence against our girls… for all of our babies.

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.