Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Message for the Tender Heart





Anyone who knows me knows that at this stage in my life, I am not fond of tears. It is a personal shortcoming of which I am quite aware, but I've navigated my life successfully to this point with a stoicism that has served to protect my very tender heart that lies beneath. When I was young my mama used to tell me I had a "soft heart" because I cared so much about the plight of all the world's living things, people, animals and the very planet itself alike. I was that teenager and young adult at every protest and every rally for every cause I believed in. Around my mid twenties I developed a callus and toughened my skin to protect myself. The pain of the world was so great and relentlessly continuous. I learned to "care less" As a survival mechanism. But something happened in me back in 2011 when Troy Davis was unjustly executed. That was the first time in many years I found myself thinking "Wow, this is the world I am still living in. Just because I stopped noticing doesn't mean the horrors stopped happening. Not much has changed." And I found myself thinking of the mothers who daily lost children to the burn of the fire of this white supremacist system. And my "soft heart" shed its callus and felt the pain. I was never able to reapply that callus, And I didn't want to either. I mean sure, I had tough skin but what good is that when the world is going down in a blaze. My tough skin would not really protect me in the end. It would just make sure I was anesthetized when the fire consumed everything in its wake. 

This summer has really taken its toll. Weekly we have been presented with facts and footage of the onslaught of death by the state that is taking place in America. Unfortunately, this is just a carryover from the very brutal year black and brown folks had last year at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. And it does not seem to be stopping as we embark on this next season of the year. For this reason, I cried yesterday. I cried heavy hearted, salty tears for every life lost. I cried for every child's innocence that was stripped from them this year because they lost a parent to state sanctioned violence, or because a parent had to take a moment to warn them about the world they send them out into every day. I cried for my own feelings of insecurity about navigating this world that is hostile to me a Black, Queer, Woman, in every way. And I cried for the years I spent shielding myself from it all.

And then I started writing. It is the only weapon I have ever wielded with any skill, well that and singing. I started writing poems at 11 yrs. old to try to make sense of this crazy world and to combat the cruelty that was my daily existence growing up in a place where I was the only black face in a sea of white ones. Poems lead to songs and prose. Writing was the tool my "soft" adolescent heart used to cope and soon became the only language I knew how to speak. As an adult I have often found it hard to express my heart's concerns verbally. But give me a pen and paper and I will recount the history of how we got here, theories of how we fix it and anthems to strengthen our hearts as we work to make it a reality. I lost the edge of my sword though, when I toughened my skin. I mean, how could I herald solutions in poem and prose, if I never gave voice to the intense pain of the problem? It is the question I asked myself after Troy Davis died and kept asking as I bore witness to the madness that has played out in this second decade of the new millennium. The answer was a firm "You can't."

And so, I've been writing to give voice to the pain I have suppressed for over a decade now, regarding the state of this planet we all share; in songs and Facebook posts mostly. LOL! But those social media rantings have brought me to this place where I now tearfully pick up my sword sharpened on the stone of grief and wield it for those whose voices have been silenced by an unjust system and violence sanctioned by the state. My mama was right. I do have a "soft heart." It can be my burden at times, but I know it is also my secret weapon against this system of oppression. Apathy is the friend of the status quo. Fear is the tool of tyranny. But compassionate, tender hearted outrage has often changed the world.

So, if you have found yourself in tears this summer. If on this Fall equinox your shoulders quake with sobs as you hear and read about the state of the world. It's okay. Your pain affirms your humanity and speaks to the beauty of your soft heart. As you sit with those tears and maybe even the feelings of helplessness that sometime accompany them, know that you are not helpless. There is SOMETHING you can do. We are not all great strategist or orators, but we all have talents that can be focused in the direction for justice. Take your skills, whatever they may be and find a way to use them for change. There is a need for the compassion that comes with true humanity right now. THAT is your place to fill. Whether you know it or not, YOU my "soft hearts" were made for this time.

xx One Love

"For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty..." 2 Corinthians 10:4

Friday, August 5, 2016

In Times Like These...

 
 
This week, just like that first week of July hit both my head and my heart. These tragedies and epic losses of Black lives are not new, but the advent of a photo-centric society makes the knowledge of them much more rapidly available to us. On a daily basis we don't just know of our uncle's, sister's, cousin's, friend's run ins with the system and state sanctioned violence. We are now also privy to the the atrocities affecting families throughout this country whose only kindred we share is a heritage rooted in ancestors whose blood feed the soil of this country that is ours through birth (so they tell us) but never fully ours to claim.

This can be a lot for people to consistently consume and self care is important. However, as a person of faith and a faith leader who took an oath to bring healing and comfort to suffering where I can. I am also always searching for what can be said and done in these tough times in which we find ourselves. As an artist I have been writing music and poetry and will continue to do so. This week, what I found to be true, in the face of the deaths of Joyce Quaeway, Korryn Gaines and Skye Mockabee is a bit more personal. 

My personal spiritual journey has been an evolution from what I call dogma to divinity. I've worked with Spirit for years to release myself from the dogmatic practices of the "shoulds and should nots" that existed in  the religious denomination of my upbringing and embraced a broader understanding of the divine essence that we know and understand as God. I accepted Love as the basis of my walk with Spirit. This process illuminated the scriptures of many of the holy books for me and opened my eyes to new and wonderful interpretations.  In that process I have gained a personal freedom that has allowed me to have a closer relationship with the divinity both within me and the cosmos. But I would be lying if I said that as I evolved in my understanding part of me did not question at least in part why some chose to cling to antiquated traditions that to me were binding and antithetical to free spiritual expression. The events of this week changed my mind about some things though.

As I watched via social media the ignoring of Joyce Quaeway's and Skye Mockabee's death by everyone except other black women, and watched Korryn Gaines be denied the benefit of the doubt in the wake of her death by the state by her own people, even seeing some goes as far as to deem her death justified; though mind you, there is usually always a collective outcry by black folks when the major media outlets trot out someone's past to justify their deaths. I was struck by the fact that none of these women's names would even have been spoken if it weren't for social media, since they were all but invisible to the mainstream media. This all has brought me to a new revelation and thus a new position when it comes to my sisters and their gods.
 

I WILL NEVER BEGRUDGE A BLACK WOMAN HER CHOSEN SPIRITUAL PATH EVER AGAIN. I WILL NOT JUDGE IT!
 

In a world that constantly shows black women that we are not loved, trusted or valued, I understand the need to feel like there is at least ONE SOMEBODY in the universe who loves us unconditionally, Who believes in us, Who cherishes us just the way we are. In a way that feels tangible and real. However you find your way to that unconditional love my sisters, Be it Jesus, Allah, Oludumare, Jehovah or Shiva I support you.

We all need a rock to anchor our hope to when this life becomes too tough. We all need something to comfort our minds so we can actually get to sleep when the world is raging. WE black women are usually that rock for EVERYONE else. But where is our rock? That strength in the storm can't always be accessed intellectually. I've always know that, but this week, I truly understand it.

Black Women, I love you. Black women, I trust you. And when faced with the choice to believe a system that has done nothing but deprived people who look like me of our basic human rights and tried to strip us of our  dignity or YOU, I WILL ALWAYS GIVE YOU THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. And you will never hear me say that the state had the right to take ANY of your lives. When given the opportunity I will always call out the toxic masculinity that supports your being killed for lack of submission or being threatened by your sexual or gender expression.

My sisters, do whatever you need to do to make it through this world whole and sane. Pray to whichever God (or Goddess) that brings you value and comfort.

I leave you with a few words of an old hymn from my Pentecostal upbringing. It was written referencing Jesus. I offer it to you as an invitation to embrace divine love in whichever expression heals and helps you.

In times like these we need an anchor. Be very sure your anchor holds and grips a solid rock...

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

On the State of Being "Woke." (Be Ever Waking)





Just as one rises in the morning to a day unexplored, the act of "waking" is continuous. Remaining "awake" for hours and days on end skews perception and feeds illusion. Even in times of battle, sleep must be obtained. Soldiers take turns sleeping while the others stand watch so that they all can be more effective. I see the declaration of "stay woke" used to admonish and belittle quite often. It implies that one can awaken to an idea, concept, or truth and then must perpetually maintain that state of knowledge & acceptance. 


But the clearer picture shows that we awaken to a concept. We understand it. We rest in it as true until some new piece of information brings deeper understanding. I think it would be more beneficial for us instead to encourage each other to "be ever waking." This acknowledges and validates that resting in what we know is an acceptable pit stop on the road to knowing more. 

Just like a spouse that greets you with a smile or the mother that kisses your forehead in the morning after being awakened by an alarm that is necessary but can be jolting, lets us as kindred be there to say "Good Morning! Let me help you get into this new day" as opposed to decrying how long they've slept. Waking to ridicule only makes one long for the "peace" of the "sleep." 

To make it through this thing called life we need each other, and at any given moment we rotate between being the sleeper, the alarm, and the awakened. Whatever your current state, remember you're coming around to the next state soon enough.  

Be Ever Waking!‬

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Problem and Power of Passing: On Beyoncé & White Tears



Mary Ellen Pleasant was born in Virginia under "unclear" circumstances around 1812. She was a VERY fair skinned Negress who was afforded most of her life what other black women of her time were not. Though her own life included servitude, she was allowed to work her way to freedom. She was allowed access to education. She ended up becoming friends with her former bondwoman's great granddaughter who was an abolitionist and became an active part of that movement. In 1848 she married. She and her husband, who was also a fair skinned man, began helping with the underground railroad and helped many slaves get out of the south. However as things got increasingly more difficult she and her husband had to move west to avoid their own demise.


They got out west in 1852. San Francisco to be specific and when she arrived Ms Mary passed for white. She never actively told anyone she was white. She just let the white folks believe what they will. Being a wonderful cook she soon gained employment at one of the most prominent gentleman's eateries in San Francisco. This place was visited by the most successful capitalists in San Francisco. So well was she received that these men helped Ms Mary to get her own place and they all frequented her establishment often. Because they thought she was white they often gave her business tips. And even when they weren't giving her tips they often spoke freely with each other at their tables... And Ms. Mary listened. Because of this she amassed a great fortune.


What her clients didn't know was how Ms. Mary was using that fortune. She was still part of the Underground railroad movement. She helped to finance many former slaves to get west. For those who made it to San Francisco she gave them loans and helped them find jobs. And she never lied to her people. She told them she was black and trusted them to keep her secret. At the end of the civil war she "came out" as black and began to file several civil rights suits with courts to overturn laws that prohibited blacks from riding trolley cars and access to other public resources. And many of the folks she helped to get established in San Francisco became Leaders in the black community in San Francisco. Her white benefactors were shocked and felt betrayed. When she died Ms Mary was know by 2 names by history 1) A professional Capitalist (This name she gave herself) and 2) The mother of the Human Rights Movement, a name given to her by the black folks of San Francisco.


White people have always known the potential power of passing in a white supremacist society. That is why the punishment during slavery and Jim Crow was death. They understood that if a black person with a particular mindset (or even one who could be swayed by the suffering of their people) were able to pass and benefit from that privilege, they could use it to pull up those of their race unable to pass.



What does all this have to do with Beyonce? Well, her parents spent years crafting a persona that would allow her to rise to super-stardom. And we know America likes to make their pop stars "colorless" once they reach a certain level of fame. And for years Beyonce allowed America to paint her with their colorless brush. But she never told folks she was colorless. She just let them believe what they will while she amassed her fortune. Now, as a grown woman, far outside her parents control, she's decided to "come out" as black. And she's publicly using her money to help where her presence may not. She and her husband have been supporting Dream Defenders with funds since the Trayvon Martin case and just pledged 1.5 million more this week. Beyonce is using some of the proceeds from her upcoming tour to help Flint, MI.


See the problem with passing is that in the end you end up in a very lonely place. The white folks who thought you were one of them feel betrayed and taken advantage of and so they rage (White Tears). And Black folks find it hard to trust you because you spent so many years passing (All the black folk critics out there saying Beyonce is just doing this for publicity). I don't know Beyonce's intent, but through observation I can say she took a chance with this most recent project, Because being un-apologetically black in America has NEVER been advantageous. But like Ms Mary, after years of passing she's saying to the white world "Y'all do know I'm black right?" and like Ms Mary she is trying to use the fortune she's amassed to do some good. For this reason the white tears flow.


Now, the last line of Formation (Your best revenge is your paper) lets you know that Beyonce is a Capitalist just like Ms Mary. Only time will tell if her legacy will include both her capitalism and human rights activism like Ms Mary. I for one am pulling for her!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Uncommon





There is a mighty move of God happening. It's been going on for a while but it is growing in momentum! God is sending people to the very doors of his sanctuary all over this country. However, attachment to tradition my cause the church to miss a Golden Opportunity to show Christ’s love to those who seek it. It’s not the first time that the church has almost missed God being stuck in tradition. I am reminded of the Apostle Peter, a chief Apostle of the early church who would have missed the move of the Beloved if not for direct intervention from the Divine.

As Peter was on his roof in time of prayer, there were Gentiles on their way to see him to ask assistance of God and to hear the good tidings of Christ. Let us not forget this expression we now refer to as Christianity was initially another sect of Judaism. Also, the custom of the time did not allow for Jews to engage with gentiles. However there was a divine plan at work to smash through previous traditions and open up the gift of God to all. In response to the approaching Gentiles desire to be accepted and heard by the Divine. God set about preparing Peter’s heart to hear their request and fulfil his duty as an ambassador of the Anointed One.

God presented to Peter, while in an altered state of prayer, things that were prohibited for him to eat as a good observant Jew and encouraged him to eat. Peter refused. This was repeated 3 times with Peter refusing each time. Finally God said to Peter one of the MOST profound statements in the bible in my opinion, “…What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common….” Very shortly after this experience while Peter still pondered its meaning, the gentile men sent to seek him by their employer arrived and asked Peter to come with them to their employer’s city and home. Because God had prepared Peter for this break from traditional Jewish regulations, He was ready to share the compassion and love of God to those who needed and desired it. So integral was his transformation that he had to declare it out loud and said to the Owner of the house he entered “…Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” 
 
Peter had a moment of clarity on that roof when he was brought face to face with the sovereignty of God. God who imposed laws to keep his people safe in times of transition could himself when he saw fit change those very laws to serve the greater good. Peter now understood that. This sentiment is later reflected by the Apostle Paul who would in a letter to the Corinthians said, “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

Dearly beloveds, we are presented in our own time an opportunity to let God’s sovereignty reign. Hundreds, yay Thousands in the LGBT community seek a place to connect with the Holy One. They seek to lead godly lives and have their unions blessed by a creator who fearfully and wonderfully made them and require only that they come. Will the church continue to turn its backs on them? Will they call common that which God has cleansed? He has shown us the sheet full of those things once unlawful and bidden us to partake. Peter refused 3 times before he got the message. How long will the church refuse before they realize that these beautiful souls are being sent by God as not only the answer to the prayers of the sent but also the prayers of the churches across this country who pray that God send people into his house? I know change can be difficult. It was difficult for Peter as a church leader to go against the established norms based on a personal experience he had with the Divine, but eventually he knew that if he did not he would become one of those “religious” that the Beloved admonished served with their lips but not their heart.

There is a mighty move of God happening. It's been going on for a while but it is growing in momentum! God is sending people to the very doors of his sanctuary all over this country. You may not believe its God. I most certainly do. In the end who among us knows the “mind of God?” For that cause I choose to error on the side of love and compassion. It is the ONE identifier Jesus left for us to recognize those who belong to him. God is Love and in the end love always wins!

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Season for Seasons





When I was 7 yrs. old it was brought to my attention by my songstress big sister that all that singing I was doing ACTUALLY sounded pretty good. I've loved to sing since I've known what it was. To be a professional singer was the very first of my artistic dreams. It was soon followed by writing, acting and fashion... But music, she was my first love and I've never given up hope that one day she and I would ride off into the sunset with writing in tow. It is the dream that has kept and still keeps me going.

This desire to be an artist was probably the first real personal proclamation I set out into the universe only following "I love you Mommy," "I love you Daddy," and "God is Great. God is Good. Let us thank him for our food. Amen." Lol! It has directed my path through many an alley and I've navigated many a byway in pursuit of it... But regardless the disappointments that have arisen and because of the pure joy it has produced I have always hoped, even in the years I was life worn and too weary to work.

In 2011 after collecting a bit of funds I thought. "Finally, I have the money to at least self-produce." The world of the internet made it possible to find an audience and market directly to them. I called on my brother and longtime friend Aaron "Pillow Jones" Luster to rally his forces and tap his contacts to help me get this done. I gave him a date and declared "It’s on!" However, life threw me yet another one of those curves that always seem to materialize right when I'm on the brink of breaking through. I had to use the money for something else, “a survival thing” and sadly I had to tell Aaron to call off the troops. I was heartbroken, though I'd have never let it show on the outside.

Then In 2012 I said (to myself only) "if I'm ever going to do it... Then I better do. This could very well be my last chance." I had no idea how. I had no money and truthfully no resources. I wasn’t going to pull another false alarm with my friends, especially when I did not know where the money was coming from. Then one day in July 2012, out of the blue, my brother Aaron called me and asked “Are you still trying to do your project? I want to help you get it done.” I knew it was divine acknowledgment for me to move ahead. You see, that is how it’s been for me in the pursuit of this dream. Every time I am about to give up or my faith falters there in some type of intervention propelling me forward.  

So, Aaron asked me how much I could pay and then charged me $100 less than that. I did one song at a time gathering money between each song for the next. He enlisted the excellent Greg Anderson and they added their flavor to my lyrics and melodies. It was going slowly but it was happening. I found myself loving all the arrangements the fellas were giving me but acutely critiquing my vocal performance. It’s true, I have done some amazing thing with my voice in my lifetime and I found myself wondering if this was a good representation of what I could do. I found myself in a state of pause… 

Then in the summer of 2013 I fell ill. I hovered at deaths door and was brought back from the very brink. After healing, more accurately during healing, I realized that life really is too short to keep putting things off in hopes of an elusive perfection. I had to admit to myself that even though I could always do better work, that was not the reason for my hesitation. It was my fear of rejection. “What if I make this offering to the world and they reject me. What would become of that dream then?” And with that revelation I committed myself to getting it done.  I finished the last 2 songs for the project and also paid to get it mastered. By February on 2014 I had a complete project, but now the next hurdle was reproducing it. 

2014 was wrought with financial difficulties for me. Added medical expenses in light of the new condition I had to care for wreaked havoc on my budget. I had NO idea of where the money would come from to mass produce this completed project. Then one day last winter I was talking to my mother. She had known of my project and asked of it completion. She wanted to know when she would hear it. I explained to her that the project was complete but I was a little short on money to mass produce it and put it into the world. She asked what I needed to complete it. I told her but also told her she didn’t need to trouble herself about it though. I’d figure something out. But as she has done since I was young, she plotted a way to assist me in reaching my goals, even after I told her she needn’t do so, and in February she gave her financial assistance to my cause. 

On May 1st I offered to the world the EP recording “Seasons.” It is a testament to the enduring nature of hope and I pray a work that speaks to the heart all who hear it. And though I have appeared on compilations over the years, It is my very first offering to the world that is completely mine. I write songs daily to ensure it won’t be the last. It is my desire to produce increasingly better music from the heart that speaks to the heart of humanity and elevates us all. But even as I look to the future, I wanted to take this time, this moment in the now to offer gratitude to Spirit and all the earth angels in his/her employ who help make this dream a reality. It is truly the season for “Seasons.” And for this I am eternally grateful.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven..” ~Ecclesiastes 3

***If you haven’t yet had a chance to do so, please check out the EP Seasons on: