Infinite Possibilities

Standard

21, oh life has just begun… It’s been a very long time since I wrote a post. In that span of time, so much has happened in my life. My entire junior year of college has

Part of the BSU board at my Zeta new member presentation.

Part of the BSU board at my Zeta new member presentation.

literally come and gone, and reflecting back on it, I must say I am truly blessed. It had its fair share of ups and downs, but nonetheless, it was very fulfilling for me personally. I had the opportunity to serve our Black Student Union as President, culminating my years of service to this wonderful organization. I am excited and optimistic for its future on campus, as I see amazing young people ready to take on its reigns.

My Aunt and I during my freshman year.

My Aunt and I during my freshman year.

My beloved Aunt Marilyn passed on January 16th, right before my Spring semester started. I tell you now, you will never meet a woman as caring and warm as her, and it hurt my soul so deeply that she left us–too soon, in my eyes. I wasn’t ready for it (who ever is?), but even as she was sick, I just knew and believed she’d get well. She always did. But this time, it was her time to transition to her heavenly home. Just months before, she graduated with her doctorate. And within a week, she was hospitalized. I thank God for giving her the strength to make it through a glorious journey that exhausted her for many years. I thank Him for the life she lived, the love she poured out to others, and most importantly, the love she had for her Savior. I draw on her strength continually through everything I do, and I know she’s looking over me and our loved ones near and far.

My family at my Aunt's commencement in November.

My family at my Aunt’s commencement in November.

Yet, in the midst of pain, God prepares you for greater blessings. This semester, I had the privilege to begin a lifelong journey of sisterhood through becoming a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated. This was no doubt a culmination of years of contemplation, relationship building, support, and growth. While I had some sort of exposure to other sororities prior to coming to Minnesota, my journey with Zeta was solely influenced by the relationships I found with Sorors here in Minnesota, which is honestly, quite beautiful to me. What was most resonating with me was that, wherever my journey would take me, Zetas would be there to support me, encourage me, and be a mentor to me, regardless of my interest. The entire Blue and White Family have also always been there for me, and I am so grateful for both my sisters and brothers. I truly inherited a family.

My LS's and I after we were inducted into Zeta! #ElementZOfFinerWomanhood

My LS’s and I after we were inducted into Zeta!
#ElementZOfFinerWomanhood

I entered the sisterhood alongside seven amazing, beautiful, strong, resilient young women that I love dearly. To know that I have the rest of my life ahead of me to share with them and vice versa is a blessing, indeed! We are so different in so many ways, but through our bond in Zeta, our sisterhood comes to life. I love Zeta because of its ability to bring women together from all walks of life and unite them through our principles, and I feel it strongest through the bond with my LS’s. These women are about to take over the world! #JustWaitOnIt It’s amazing how God works. I remember my Soror Brittany telling me on Founders’ Day this year (not my Soror at time obviously, but at this point, I was sold on becoming a Zeta) to think about how I would honor January 16th moving forward, in light of my aunt’s passing. January 16th is now not a day of mourning, but a day of celebration. It is a day where I can reflect on the matchless power of sisterly love, as it is my Founder’s Day. I can honestly say that the way my Aunt loved me and those in her life influences me in my relationships not just with my sisters, but with everyone, and if anything, January 16th is a day of rededication to do just that: love, and love fiercely. —- I’m sitting here right now, in awe that in less than one year, I will be a graduate of the University of Minnesota. I will have graduated with honors. I will have left a legacy here that I never thought I could accomplish almost three years ago when I stepped foot on my campus. I will leave with friendships, sisterhoods, family that I can cherish for a lifetime. I will literally have the world at my feet. Not many can say this, so this is a blessing in itself. I am at that point in my college career where people are starting to ask me, “So what are your plans post-graduate?” Honestly, I don’t know. My path is not clear-cut, and to be honest, it never was–at least, outside of my education. I was never the type of person who made a strict plan for my life in the next 5-10 years. I thrive in the college environment because anything less than 5 years I can work with. Once inspired, I set my basic path (primarily, my academics), but along the way, experiences came into my life and I took advantage of them. And so, I cannot tell you where I’ll be in 5-10 years. And I don’t want to be able to tell you. I am on the track towards my doctorate and professorship–a goal further solidified through my aunt’s journey. But right now, I cannot say definitively what discipline. Through my major, I have been exposed to multiple disciplines, and I’m still searching for the one best for me. I know I am called to be an educator. There are days when I see myself as a professor. Other days as a K-12 teacher. Other days as something creating curriculum system-wide that better engages students holistically and seeks to teach the truth. I could very well do all of these things in my career. I’m just not sure where I’ll start first. For a long time, I said I would go back home to Chicago for a few reasons. I miss my family dearly. Every year, I seem to spend less and less time at home. I also feel compelled to bring everything I have learned here in Minnesota back home. But I’ve also traveled across the country and can see myself elsewhere for awhile. East Coast, Down South…maybe even still the Midwest. But that’s not a solidified decision. I have a unique opportunity in my hands as I approach graduation. God has blessed me with life circumstances that allow me infinite possibilities! At first, I was afraid of this. I wanted to go home because it was safe. I almost considered staying in Minnesota because it was safe from a career standpoint. I considered different locations because certain friends of mine lived there. And that’s fine and all, but I don’t have the obligation to do so. I am not married, nor am I in a relationship. I don’t have children. I am not burdened financially to the point I cannot be mobile (I just have a boatload of loans -_-). I will have an education. I have knowledge of a plethora of opportunities that could take me anywhere. All I have to do is take advantage of them. What a blessing indeed! So, when the time comes, I will make my next move. My senior year is shaping up to be great. My big project is my Senior Honors Thesis (which I will chronicle the process through the blog). I’m transitioning out of BSU and into Zeta. And most importantly, I will graduate on-time. Currently, I plan to apply to a variety of public service/federal corps programs in the gap year(s) between undergrad and graduate school. I could honestly be placed anywhere in the country through these programs. And who knows? I might come across an opportunity that will take me out of the country. While that is definitely scary in itself, I cannot be found by fear. Whatever path God has for me is the best for me, so why should I be afraid? Why should I limit His blessings? Writing this post in itself has been therapeutic. I will confess and say more often than not, I approach this topic with more cowardice than courage. I want to take the easy road out. I want to tie my life down. I want to take the next step that’s been outlined for me by the world, no questions asked. The trajectory looks much clearer that way. But obviously, that’s not what God wants for me. He wants me to take the leap of faith I have dreaded for some time now. He wants me to trust Him with my future. He wants me to stop burdening myself with worry and self-doubt and just JUMP. And He has ensured this through leading me down the road less traveled. When I am afraid, I remember what my God said: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). At every step, He will be there. At every moment where I feel I do not have a clue as to what I should do, He will guide me. When I am weak, He will strengthen me. I am worthy to fulfill His plan for me, because He lives in me. And that’s all I need. The possibilities are infinite, and I have just scratched the surface on what could happen. And that’s alright with me. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqdd2_SiTsU

Fresh First Fridays: BlaKamal

Standard

Greetings ladies and gents!

I hope you’re pumped for THE FIRST “Fresh First Fridays” feature–because I am!

Every first Friday of the month, I will be featuring artistic talent across various mediums. The floodgates are open on what you may encounter, so stay tuned for what comes your way!

This month, I am pleased to feature BlaKamal. BlaKamal is a budding videographer, photographer, and musical artist. He just graduated from the DeVry Advantage Academy in Chicago this past Spring, where he received an Associates Degree in Web Graphic Design along with his high school diploma. He will be continuing his education at Devry for a Bachelors in Multimedia Design.

Today’s feature includes a music video BlaKamal produced for local artist Zachary Matters titled “Devil Juice.” Check it out:

To view more of BlaKamal’s work, please visit his YouTube channel. You can also find him on MySpace, Twitter, and Instagram, where you will also find some of his work in photography. For all inquiries, email BlaKamal at blakamal@gmail.com.

If you want to be considered for future Fresh First Fridays, please send all inquiries to azjones0210@gmail.com.

New Feature!

Standard

images (1)

I’m beginning a feature of underground talent on my blog. If you make music, create digital media/art of any kind (photography, videography, etc.), do spoken word/poetry, dance, act, do graphic design, etc., send your work my way!

Work must be “shareable.” Meaning: this is not a space to advertise your next gig. I must have material to share with readers. I will be more than happy to publicize, but I must have material as the centerpiece.

All inquiries can be sent to azjones0210@gmail.com. Submissions do not guarantee features, so make sure what you send is quality!

Thanks loves!

Amber <3

My Open Letter to Kerry Washington

Standard

Dear Kerry,

I have meant to write this letter for a good minute. To begin this quite succinctly, I have two words for you:

I’m sorry.

Kerry Washington

Kerry Washington

I owe you an apology.

Lately, I was beginning to doubt you as an actress.

I admire you greatly as a scholar, graduating from George Washington University with two degrees (anthropology and sociology) and induction into Phi Beta Kappa. As a budding scholar myself, I look to you for inspiration. You show me that black girls from the inner-city like me can duke it out with the best of the brightest minds out there.

I am always pleased by your opinions on issues of race, class, and gender. You are one who recognizes the importance of intersectionality. You give us hope as a figure in the public eye when you assert that post-racism is a myth. We need more figures of influence to express things of this nature vocally.

And even as an actress, there are roles of yours that I will always cherish: Night Catches Us and For Colored Girls being just two of many.

However, recent roles had me a little troubled. I was not too fond of Django Unchained for reasons that have been debated immensely on the Internet, in friends’ circles, film screenings and discussion events everywhere, so I spare the drawn-out explanation. One thing I will say is that I am never fond of damsel-in-distress characters (which is the name of the game in spaghetti Westerns, I suppose).

But it was Scandal that really set me back. I legitimately refused to watch Scandal as the first two seasons aired. I judged the book by the cover; when people told me she had a mistress relationship with the President, I was turned off. Then I heard the President was white, and it immediately reminded me of your character in Django, which infuriated me enough to not watch the show. I would rather see healthy interracial relationships than unhealthy, and I did not want to see Olivia Pope be disrespected in such a way. I thought the show was only going to perpetuate the same narrative from the days of slavery, and that regardless of her occupation, that her relationship would overshadow her feats as a career woman.

Girl, was I wrong.

Kerry Washington in Scandal.

Kerry Washington in Scandal.

I decided this summer to watch the first two seasons of Scandal. I do not remember why; I just did. I went from skeptical, to angry, to sympathetic, to empowered. Olivia was so much more than someone that had this relationship with Fitz; she was selfless. She was passionate. She was strong. She was in love. She was heartbroken, but healing. She represents women who have fought for centuries to be in a position of power, of influence. She represents women who are not afraid being successful. She represents women who struggle with preserving one’s self in the midst of finding love and abundance. She represents women who have fallen, but picked themselves back up. She represents women who are loyal to the ones they love. She represents my mom, my grandma, my aunts, my cousins, my sisters, my friends. She represents me.

(And she ALWAYS dressed fly!)

For you to be the face of Olivia is monumental. For you to immerse herself in her journey is something I now appreciate. For you to draw from the experiences of women, regardless of race or creed or nationality is groundbreaking. But for you to be a black woman in this role is inspiring. 

My best friend wrote a poem about Olivia Pope once and likened her experiences to my own. I did not have an issue with it because she was speaking about her tendency to want to “fix things” even though it may come at an expense to her well being (my life :P), but she did put my name in the poem and I asked her to take it out, saying, “I don’t want to be equated to a mistress!” Needless to say, I now don’t have a problem with it. Because Olivia is nothing like a mistress. And Kerry, you are everything like a beautiful, inspiring woman.

Keep doing what you’re doing, dear.

With love,

Amber <3

Rachel, I Understand

Standard

Dear Rachel,

Today I tuned in to the live coverage of the trial that is seeking justice in your dear friend, Trayvon Martin. As the cross-examination occurred, a continuation from earlier days, I increasingly became frustrated with the way the defense approached you. Any good defense will attempt to fluster a witness such as yourself, as your testimony does not support their client. But to insult your intelligence and criticize your speech is frankly unnecessary, especially after you continually expressed the facts regarding your phone call with Trayvon on that fateful night in February 2012. What is worse is the terrible backlash of the news media and Internet outlets.

You got this, Rachel! [Pic from For Harriet: http://on.fb.me/11QwSKh]

You got this, Rachel! [Pic from For Harriet: http://on.fb.me/11QwSKh%5D

Rachel, I understood you completely, and there are many people out there that are asserting that very same truth.

What is being asserted as “lack of intelligence” is actually a lack of understanding from those who do not understand our dialect and codes as African-Americans. It is not a dialect that is distinct only to people who “society” believes at the bottom; on the contrary–the most profound and intellectual of African-Americans have a deep understanding of our collective vernacular. It is a beautiful thing indeed.

It is how we communicated to each other on plantations. How we built solidarity within our churches. It is how we sent messages through the Underground Railroad. It is infused in our music, from spirituals to gospel to blues to jazz to hip-hop. It is how we connect and thrive. And what the world must understand is that we do not care if they do not understand us. 

But Rachel, you must be mindful of the fact that the defense will do anything in their power to disable you. I was engulfed in anger just watching the cross-examination, so I can imagine how upset you were on the stand. The pursed lips, the forced “yes sir’s”, the tone of your voice–everyone notices these things, from the defense, to the jury, to the judge, to viewers across the globe. Do not let the defense take control. Disable their examination with the facts, as you have been, and stand firmly on them with a piercing respect that will fluster them. Know their tactics. And most of all, let your beauty shine.

It has already shined into the hearts of countless individuals who are supporting you as you seek justice for Trayvon and his family. Most adults could not endure what you have endured in the name of Trayvon, and you are still standing. Hold on just a little while longer. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

With love,

Amber <3

If you have a love note for Rachel, please post it on The Feminist Wire’s Facebook page with the hashtag #lovenotesforrachel and send your love on Twitter with the hashtag #LoveForRachel.

Let Them See You Sweat

Standard

I keep beginning to write this post, only to walk away from it. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is fear. Maybe it is my ego. I cannot pinpoint it. All I know now is that this time,  I cannot walk away.

I have a supremely difficult time being vulnerable. For me, I do not see vulnerability as a weakness or a dissension from God’s masterful work he employed when sculpting us in His image. It is central to our human experience. It uncovers the depths of our souls. It shines a light in the darkest crevices. It reveals our wholeness. It makes one strong.  It is necessary to trust. It is necessary to love. It is necessary to change lives, to change the world.

And it is one of the biggest plights of my life. I don’t know why I decide to fight it so often, to attempt to live as a Superwoman as if it is humanly possible to do so. Even Superman had a Kryptonite.

I tried to seek out the answer through various venues, starting with my family. I come from a lineage of strong women, and that is something that I am nothing but proud of. My grandmother, aunts, cousins–they pour themselves out for the ones they love on a daily basis, and it is seldom that I see them in a state of weakness. I admire them; their strength, their compassion, their love. I know they have each gone through their share of struggles, and if it was not for their ability to pick themselves up, they would not be where they are today. But even they did not do it themselves. They had each other, their circle of sisterhood. As Pilate, Reba, and Hagar supported each other in Song of Solomon, they continue to come together and support each other.

Then I look to my mother. To this day, she never ceases to amaze me. She is beautiful and beaming of love. Even when I was the irritating, spoiled, ungrateful child I can be, she has not walked away from me. But this is not a trait that she employs solely to her only child, and that is what surprises me. I have seen a snippet of her struggles, and I can count on one hand the times I saw her cry. She held it together, especially for me.

But now I am at this point that while I praise the women before me, I feel like I am employing the qualities I admire about them in the wrong way. The largest struggle I have encountered in my nearly two years since leaving home is knowing who I can trust and reveal myself to–all of myself. I’d rather be strong. I’d rather be Superwoman. I’d rather be someone people can depend on. It’s easier to be dependable than dependent.

But it’s also toxic. Very toxic. I remember reading When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks it Down by Joan Morgan and feeling so refreshed because she gets it. She understands. She has an entire chapter on “Strong Black Women” and how toxic that mentality can be to Black women. It is completely okay to be strong. I would not be here today if I was not strong. I would not have been able to get through heartbreak, depression, loneliness, isolation, self-worthlessness, all of this without strength. But when it takes away your vulnerability, your humanity–that is when it becomes toxic. When it makes it increasingly difficult for you to trust people, to lean on them for support–that is when it becomes dangerous.

I’m tired of employing this “Strong Black Woman” logic. It’s not that I do not want to be strong. I just also want to be real. Real with myself and real with the loved ones around me. I have legitimately pushed people away because I felt I was becoming too vulnerable in front of them, and that is something I am not okay with anymore.

The reason why I am writing all of this is because I know I am not the only person struggling with this. Whether it is a person in my life, or a complete stranger across the world, it is not an issue that people do not struggle together with. For me, I can never go through something without taking a note from Jesus. If there was anyone in the history of existence who endured the greatest degrees of vulnerability and triumphed, it is Him. And that keeps me going. Whatever keeps you going, find that. Keep challenging yourself. Push your limits. Because doing so will also challenge you to become a person with no secrets, full of integrity.

We were created to be in community. There is nothing beneficial about perpetually isolating oneself emotionally to preserve “strength.” We are all imperfect beings. We are one piece to a puzzle. When we live like no one needs to truly know us, we set ourselves up for failure, especially in our moments when we need someone the most.

I know this is a stray from my normal topics, but it needed to be said. It must have been if I keep thinking and wrestling with it so much. Hopefully, we can all grow together from this. There is nothing wrong with letting someone see you sweat. Or cry. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Because it is only but one setback on your path to greatness. A setback you can overcome. When you act like it is something you can fix when you really can’t, you end up like Olivia Pope, drowning in a pool of issues and a glass full of egotism. You are better than that. Get back on your path–the right way.

With much love,

Amber <3

Misplaced Rhetoric, Misplaced Focus: Why Treating Chicago Gangs as Terrorists Will Not Solve the Problem

Standard

Yesterday, CNN columnist LZ Granderson posted a piece on the Opinion column titled “Treat Chicago gangs as terrorists.”

Yup.

I view this as problematic for a good amount of reasons. While we definitely want to create a sense of urgency in the nation much like there was urgency in the Boston bombings and subsequent manhunt, I believe Granderson’s mechanisms and focus are misplaced. They only address part of the issue.

1. Terrorist rhetoric is already used in some form or fashion, with no preferred “results.”

As I state earlier in my piece “Stop Calling Chicago ‘Chiraq'”, terms like “Chiraq” began as terms that communicated the dire need for change and the urgency of the matter, but quickly became sensationalized, glamorized, and normalized within our society. Now it is a term that, when heard, largely gets a proverbial shrug and a “that’s Chicago for ya,” not a “we need to make change in this city.” And this is rhetoric that directly connects to terrorism.

Secondly, let us not forget that terms like “gangs”, “thugs”, “hoodlums”, the list goes on, have been used for decades and developed its own negative, demonized connotation that Granderson is somewhat seeking, just now it lacks urgency. It now follows a certain phenotype, just as “terrorist” carries: Thug (cue Black/Brown, poor, young male) as to Terrorist (cue Middle Eastern/Arab Muslim). We some of the same effects. We cross the streets when we see them the same way. We tug our children closer. We target them first. We fear them. It’s not like it isn’t already happening because we aren’t using the same term.

2. Terrorist rhetoric is alienating, and that is the LAST thing we need.

Most visible representation of gang violence or just criminal acts in general in communities in Chicago are teenage boys and young men. And they are not like the occasional “terrorist”; it is a massive demographic that is involved here. By alienating them even further, we perpetuate this stereotype of Black/Brown men and boys to a higher degree, instilling more fear in America for this demographic, and justify the same useless acts we have been fighting tirelessly to eliminate (i.e. racial profiling, stop and frisk, etc.). We would like to believe, in a perfect world, that this would not happen, but it already does, and it would not get better.

4. We have seen the horrific effects of such rhetoric on an entire demographic.

When the Boston bombings occurred, I quickly sent a prayer up for the victims and families, but also for my friends in the Muslim community, that they are kept safe from discrimination and violence. Stories arose of men and women being attacked because they looked Arab and Muslim. Heba Abolaban was punched in the shoulder. Abdullah Faruque was beaten outside of an Applebee’s. Valerie Kaur wrote an entire piece about the fear Sikhs and Muslims experienced when the suspects were presumed to be Muslim. It does not pinpoint the perpetrators at all but casts an entire community into hatred in the country’s eyes.

5. If the result Granderson’s seeking is more people off the streets and in the jail cells, it’s already happening.

In 2008, 58% of those incarcerated were African-American and Hispanic. I do not want to make misplaced assumptions, but I presume this number has not decreased since then. Filling our jail cells with them, the major demographics involved in crime in Chicago, is already on the up-and-up. And what is the community doing in response? Organizing against it. Why? Because it is not solving the root problem, but only eliminating the visible residuals.

—-

I do not want to spend this entire post bashing Granderson. I believe he had great intent. We all SHOULD be concerned about the 53 school closings and how that affects children travelling across gang territories or even interaction with rival gang representations in the schools themselves. Let us not forget the horrific death of Derrion Albert in 2009, a product of what happens when you redirect students to rival territories. An entire brawl ensued, leaving Derrion dead after being beat up by a 2×4. And we should ALL be concerned about the Hadiyas and the Jonylahs that tugged at our souls so deeply. But we need to be concerned about every lost life as well, even the ones that “seem” not so promising.

Provoking empathy in the nation for this issue is something I would love to see, and spoke about it extensively in “Stop Calling Chicago ‘Chiraq’,” but I believe there is a difference between empathy within these communities and demographics and empathy from the entire nation. As a Black woman and a Chicagoan, I do not need CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, NONE OF Y’ALL to create a frenzy over what going on in my ‘hood or any other ‘hood in this country for me to care and want to act. The support is appreciated, but not necessary. For my people, I know we are in a crisis because it is in my face every day. It is my reality. And this should go for any person that is connected in some kind of way.

But I know this does not always happen. And I know this definitely does not happen if you do not feel connected and have the privilege to not have to be connected. Someone on Facebook commented, “Why aren’t we told about the hundreds of deaths caused due to gang violence, and why do people seem not to care?” Because you do not DEMAND it. These communities can demand it all they want, but until the country demands to put a spotlight on it, it will not occur. Which is what I see Granderson trying to do. The method is just misplaced.

It is misplaced because it does not fully take into consideration those affected by the violence. We want to see peace, not more war. Creating the image of tyrants ravaging our communities does not solicit any kind of peace. We want to build uplift. We understand that part of the problem is systematic. It is perpetuated through generations. It is more complex than we would like to think. It does not follow the dominant narrative of what America views as terrorist.

We need to be in control. Not media powerhouses. Not the government. We, the communities, need to lead the conversation on how to view this issue. When we look back in history, the greatest advancements toward justice for us occurred when we took a stand and demanded we be viewed in the way we preferred. When we leave it up to mainstream media to write that narrative, we are asking for trouble. I know there are allies out there like Granderson advocating for us, but we have not come fully to that sense of public trust just yet. Turn to your local news branch of a major broadcasting company, and you see it firsthand.

I am not trying to have people believe that just because our communities have become war zones in many ways, that militant action is the best route to go because of how we understand the issue. I’m trying to save my community, not exterminate them, and you cannot say that is not a possibility because: 1) it happens already, and 2) we react in the same way when we label something “terrorist.”

—-

We, the community, never needed national headlines to start the movement before, and we definitely do not need them now. Keyword: start. We have to start first. We have to mobilize, organize, build solidarity. We have to collectively feel the sense of urgency and not be afraid to act. Empathy was never something given to us; we had to demand it on our terms. That process is much better, in my opinion, instead of perpetuating a narrative we have little say over that will probably present a result we did not anticipate or desire.