Friday, May 24, 2019

In Search of Sisterhood

I am still riding the high from my Reunion a week later. I am still dragging myself through the mundane tasks of each day (which is what I was doing before), but now on the other side of an epic weekend, I think this is what withdrawal feels like. I am SOOOOOO glad that I went back!

There is so much I want to say about my experience. I want to say that I took the time to visit certain hallowed places on campus to take pictures. I want to say that I got to hug every classmate. I want to say that I partied like a 20-something and feel inspired to repeat the attempt in the coming weeks now that summer is near. I want to say that I will definitely be back for Homecoming God willing and if the creek don't rise...

But as you might have guessed, everything did not unfold according to plan and that is just fine. Instead of taking great pictures at specific locations on campus, I took a lot of bad selfies with my college crew who all managed to make it back for this Reunion. I bought keepsakes for some prospective students back at home. I did party like it was 1999, so my body has a few choice words an entire week later. I am looking forward to Homecoming in October, but if life happens, I have fond memories and stronger bonds from this weekend to sustain me until the next big gathering.

My heart is full and in spite of my physical fatigue, my spirit has been uplifted and renewed.

Spelman College was the right place for me 29 years ago when I was an awkward 16 year old who had endured years of feeling like a square peg in a round hole. I found a tribe among young Black women from all walks of life--the daughters and nieces of famous somebodies to the daughters and nieces of local everybodies. We were all just lucky enough to meet at this small women's college. We all knew people who wanted to be there and others who chose not to attend. Back then we had no idea how special Spelman would be for us.

If you find my enthusiasm for my alma mater groan inducing, I urge you to look deeper...this is not another love letter to Spelman inasmuch as it is an acknowledgment of the space she gave me to discover my true self. I assure you, other alumni feel the same intense devotion to their schools for various reasons, usually when they are confident that it was the right place to matriculate for those four or more years. Although I left that campus 25 years ago, it has always felt like home to me. I will not sugarcoat by suggesting that my tenure was Shangri La or utopia, it's just that when I look back over my life and look at all of the other places I have been, nothing else compares. NOTHING.

My excitement for this Reunion had been building for some time, beginning with the pictures that friends had been posting since 2017. I had a great time at my 20th Reunion and had no doubts that I would move heaven and earth to return. And each October during Homecoming as I watched from the social media sidelines because life just didn't work out for me to attend, no worries I thought, because Reunion 25 is coming.

Then last March I received the sad news that one of my classmates had succumbed to breast cancer. I knew she had been sick, and as best as I could, I followed her journey through social media. I even saw the pictures of her at the last Homecoming but didn't notice her frailty or the fact that she was carrying an oxygen tank. Her death floored me. We weren't even close friends, but it was jarring to lose a peer in what I now understand to be the prime of life. And I remembered her father because he and my Dad were once colleagues (which is how we met). Then it must have been six weeks later that another classmate suddenly passed. This time the connection went back to our years in high school; suddenly, I was blindsided by the inevitability of my mortality.

I determined then that no matter what, not only would I return, but I would make it my business to encourage as many of my sisters as I could to do the same. It became a personal crusade to connect and celebrate these women, because life had proven to be too random and unpredictable. I also got involved with the Reunion planning. Initially, that was not my intention, but sometime after Homecoming, I made an inquiry and as it happens in life, asking a question sometimes means that it becomes your duty to find the solution. And God willing, I plan to keep up with both efforts for as long as I can.

And a whole week after my Reunion, I see God at work in so many ways which proves how much I needed that fellowship with my sisters. I had some long-overdue and much needed heart-to-heart conversations and have vowed to maintain those relationships. I met some sisters whom I did not know 25 years ago (yep, even on such a small campus), and I have grown closer to others whom I now consider good friends. I am overjoyed by their accomplishments and achievements. I celebrate their children and grandchildren and what lies ahead on their prospective journeys. I stand in the gap for those in need of fortitude and strength. And as for those that I missed or who could not attend, we were still joined in spirit.

I have many 'sisters' from other aspects of my life, but my Reunion reminded me that the meaning of that word requires more than just a certificate of affiliation. There are a lot of women in this world who are linked to me through the various organizations to which we pay dues; unfortunately, that is the extent of our kinship. Because of the boost I received at Reunion, I resolve to focus my energy on the relationships that nourish my spirit instead of ones that have become too taxing or that I only maintain out of obligation.

Even among my Spelman sisters, some of y'all I can only love from afar. But whenever we are in each other's presence, I plan to enjoy the laughter and the tears. I am grateful for that brief time together that shaped the course of our lives.
We'll ever faithful be, throughout eternity...oh God forever bind our hearts to thine.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Pay It Forward

I was in packing mode on Sunday morning as my family prepared to vacate our hotel room and as always, it was my job to manage that aspect of our departure. I think it was shortly after the Hub took the bags and the Kid down to the lobby for check-out that this news was the lead story:

It took me a minute to process what I had just heard, but again, when struggling to make the late check-out, one must focus on the task at hand. It was not until we were on the way to the airport that I took time to really absorb the significance of this gift. Mind you, I had heard of Robert F. Smith because as one of a handful of Black billionaires, his money moves are always BIG news. When it was announced that he would be the commencement speaker, I figured it was in an effort to coax enough money from him to fund some new construction and add his name to a building or two on campus. Because that is what insanely rich people do.

Except, in the tradition of insanely rich Black people who get invited to speak at Morehouse College, there is always a twist. Somehow, these young men inspire rich Black people to invest in them personally. Oprah did it. Ray Charles did it. The comedian who used to be America's Dad did it (well, actually his big investment was at Spelman, but his late son was a Morehouse Man and he gave them a substantial gift as well). There are so many names among the Who's Who of Black folks that have supported Morehouse in some way that it is easy to lose track.

So before you read any further, let me simply say that if you intend sing in the chorus of haters who: (1) complain that certain HBCUs always receive these types of gifts; (2) are pissed that your graduation speaker only offered advice; (3) are mad that his wife isn't Black; and/or (4) just live to complain because that is the only way you get attention, you can stop here.

Let's be very clear about what Brother Smith (now that he is an honorary Morehouse Man) did in pledging to pay off their student loan debt. He gave those young brothers a clean financial slate upon which empires could be built. He helped their parents. He improved their credit ratings. He cleared the pathway for young brothers to follow dreams instead of chasing dollars. He saved marriages, delivered healthy babies, funded new business ventures, greenlit screenplays, built clean water wells and schools in Africa, fed starving artists, burnt mortgages, funded new treatments for cancer and other chronic diseases, closed the digital divide, and otherwise changed life trajectories in all kinds of untold ways. Brother Smith applied venture capital principles and determined that a $40 million investment in these 396 young men would reap greater benefits than etching his name on the facade of a building.

But enough about him because there are so many news articles circulating today about this man that I doubt he will get a full night of sleep in the coming weeks. Folks will be coming out of the woodwork for his money. However once the hooplah does subside, I hope he has inspired a renewed interest in HBCU philanthropy by the so-called Talented Tenth. But not just among the summer in the Hamptons/Martha's Vineyard set, but it needs to challenge all of us achieving Negroes to #HBCUJustGive.

I know, I am a scratched record with respect to that point, but the beauty of this gift is how it should inspire more of us to touch young lives through alumni giving. I may never be able to write a check for someone else in an amount that would change their life, but who can say that I haven't already? Perhaps the modest amount of money I have donated paid someone's overdue rent or maybe it helped someone else cover the cost of books for a semester. College costs a lot more than just tuition, and it is possible that the amount of money my classmates raised since December could have paid for a full year, including room and board, and other expenses.

Those are examples of the type of support that we can provide on the front end or during the course of matriculation for some students. Our support is also needed by the institutions directly in order to expand academic programs, fund special initiatives, or even to rehabilitate/replace crumbling infrastructure. My freshman year dorm still doesn't have air conditioning, which I could laugh off as a rite of passage...or I can acknowledge the fact that it has been 29 years since I endured that late summer Georgia heat and we weren't dealing with climate change then.

Thus, the fundamental question raised by Robert F. Smith's generosity is what can I do.

My answer: I can continue to use this little soap box of mine to encourage small scale philanthropy. And I can put my little bit of money where my mouth is and continue to make donations to my own alma mater as well as to advocate giving for other HBCUs. I can work with my classmates to increase our fundraising yield for 2024 because when I think about the minor miracle that was performed in six months:

If you are a hater who kept reading, ask yourself what you could do instead. How could you bless the life of a young person if you re-channeled that negative energy? If you believe that this gift was somehow unearned, look in the mirror and ask what grace you have been given in life to get you to this point. If you are critical that this was a show-boating maneuver, then I'm wondering what country you've been living in for the past two and a half years. If you are salty because you are still repaying loan debt, I can't offer much comfort from the same sinking ship, but would you really wish this burden on others? If you are waiting on another billionaire bailout, let me know what Betsy DeVos offers by way of loan forgiveness.

You do not need to be rich to make a difference. Generations of Black people with far less than we have today built these institutions with skills and ingenuity. Our job is to sustain and expand for the generations that follow us. So in the words of the man who kept another alleged billionaire out of the news cycle for a good 24 hours, "We are enough to take care of our community." #HBCUJustGive

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Throw Mama From the Train

This has been one of the hardest years of my life so far, and it is just May. With the year halfway over, it is too late to request a re-boot. I didn't make any resolutions. I didn't even acknowledge Lent like I usually do. If I were a Muslim who celebrated Ramadan, I'm sure I would have already messed that up too...

So with hours to go before Mother's Day arrives, I am feeling defeated. Unlike every other mother who is preparing to be lauded for all of the wonderful things she does for her family, I would rather just stay in bed to hide from my Kid. Not because I fear her, but because lately, I hate her.

I know, a good mother is not supposed to express such horrible feelings, especially not at this time of year when people are trying extra hard to make everyone feel guilty because of their Mama issues. And look, I have plenty of my own, so I am not judging anyone. Before she got sick, my Mother could be the opposite of joy. And since she's been sick, I refuse to put on rosy glasses; however, since becoming a mother myself...

I over-stand some of her issues. We were ungrateful little shits. So maybe she did deserve to act extra bitchy this time of year and maybe I could have grumbled less about the fact that she had two other children and a husband who were all capable of making plans to celebrate her fantastic-ness. But somehow, every damn year from 1996 to 2010, the expectation was on ME to properly celebrate her every May, and I failed.

Which is consistent as I have been failing at a lot of stuff lately. I am a bad Auntie to my newborn nephew whom I have yet to meet. I am a bad play grandmother to my cousin's son (whom I also haven't met yet). I am a bad line sister to the woman who held my hand during childbirth, who is now a mother herself and my trifling ass still hasn't delivered her son's Christmas gift. I am a bad leader Mommy to the women in my mommy group and they don't talk to me anymore. I am a bad friend because no one makes plans to do anything with me these days. I am a bad daughter for not spending a lot of time with my parents. And I am a bad Mommy to this strong-willed woman-child whom I love more than life itself because I also hate her sassy ass.

I own those feelings because I am not a lazy or mean or abusive or neglectful or indifferent parent. I try to be present with this child EVERY DAMN DAY. I show up for her. I sacrifice for her. I have missed out on activities for her. I have lost relationships over her. I struggle to attain some relevancy in life for her. But she is an ungrateful little shit, just like my sassy ass once was to my bitchy Mama. So here we are...the circle of life (I just watched The Lion King on Disney Junior).

I miss my Mother and need her guidance through this. But since I'm being honest, she probably wouldn't offer me any comfort. She would look me in the eye and say that it serves me right. The flip side to that is how the Kid tells me that I am not her friend anymore followed by a little tongue with sound effects.

But I get it. This is a painful weekend for many so why should you care about my insecurities? If you haven't unfollowed me or stopped reading by now, please know that I see you. Because of fucking Alzheimer's, I have an idea of how it feels to mourn a Mother's absence. Because of my "advanced maternal age", there were years when I just accepted the possibility that life had other plans for me. There may be many reasons why there is someone out there who would trade places with me...and if you are interested I can inbox you my address.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

BBW Tea Party: The Black British Prince

When the royal baby birth announcement was informally made the other day, apparently I had walked away from my computer and phone, so I missed it by thirty minutes!!! Because hey, I've been on royal baby watch just like the rest of the world, but thankfully I caught up quickly to see the deliriously happy Daddy Prince Harry offer his emotional statement of utter amazement and unbridled joy over the birth of his son. And today, on what is the third day in the new life of Baby Sussex, we have a photo:

And ugh, my ovaries hurt (which I'm sure is just PMS), but talk about the sweetest moment in life! There is almost nothing that compares to the joy of that moment. Of course, there are other moments, but every time parents get to introduce a new baby it is a reminder of the marvel of life in its purest form.

So what could possibly spoil it, you ask, because why else would the Busy Black Woman feel the need to break royal protocol by saying anything before we have officially heard from the Queen? Because some of y'all are out here in these streets starting nonsense, asking if Baby Sussex will be raised Black...

Now it is not my place to address what that question actually means across the pond because I only know what it means to be Black here in America. I know that as Black mothers give birth to sons here in this country, we have that same expression of joy on our faces, but in our hearts we also ache with the full awareness of the issues our sons might face in the years ahead. I can't speak directly to that from experience as I have a daughter, but I do have a month-old nephew, a two month-old baby cousin, and a few other young Black boys recently born into my family. The joy I have felt at their births is always tempered by the worries I carry for their lives. (And trust, as the Black mother of a daughter, I have a different set of concerns that keep me up at night and turn my hair gray.)

Baby Sussex has been born into one of the world's oldest monarchies, and the privileges that will bring him over the course of his life do not compare to what most of us will ever experience. This child will never go hungry. This child will attend the best schools. This child will live in homes that have clean running water, no lead paint, and no vermin infestation. This child will have the freedom to choose his path in the world. This child will never have to work a real job. This child will never get harassed by the police. This child will never have to worry about taking care of his mamma in her old age.

Yet, as a Black man-child who one day will have to leave the safety of the castles and country estates, he will endure the scrutiny of being the Black royal. His mother has already had to deal with tabloid rumors of being difficult, which is the polite way of calling her the black sheep of the family. The audacity of a Duchess having her own style and wanting to have things done her own way! So just imagine what life might be like for Baby Sussex in a few years.

And yes, I will see him as Black even as the world suggests that with three white grandparents his racial identity isn't as fixed or as tethered to American ideas such as the one-drop rule. But I know a little something that the world won't acknowledge, which is the influence his maternal grandmother, Doria Ragland, will have in his life. You see, I've observed the British monarchs from afar for years, and these are not the most affectionate people. I have yet to see a picture of Prince Charles looking anything other than uncomfortable around children, even his own. Sure, there will be a perfect family photo with the future King and I'm sure that Camilla will try her best, but let's be real. Baby Sussex will never have to make an appointment to see Nana Dee (my nickname). And Lord knows if there will ever be a meaningful reconciliation with Granddad Markle.

Now if Princess Diana were still alive, I am sure that she would have wanted to be a more hands-on grandmother, but her kids had nannies, so I just don't believe she would have been down with changing nappies. But Nana Dee? She's going to be ALL up in there: changing nappies, feeding him, reading to him, buying his first Easter suit, and doting all over him like every other proud Black grandma. (As I was writing this, it was announced that Baby Sussex has been formally named Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. And look who is also in that picture...)

Thus, to answer the original question, little Archie will indeed be a little Black Prince (even without the formal title). He will be raised as a child of privilege, but something tells me that he will have a deeper understanding and appreciation of his uniqueness within the British Royal Family. At the same time, he won't be all that unique in a world where the concept of being biracial isn't nearly as scandalous as it once was. Congratulations!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Who's the Daddy?

In celebration of Star Wars Day - May 4th (as in May the Fourth be with you...), I decided to update this piece a little.

A while back I wrote an entire piece recently about a old movie that I used to love, by the end of which I came to the conclusion that after all of this time, the object of my affection was really its star Christopher Reeve. And I still love him because it's hard to get over crushes that you've carried around for decades (even when the object of that crush is gone). So let's take a moment to appreciate another 80s-era icon whom I also love even more, who is still with us, and whose appearance in the most recent Star Wars trailer got me to shouting Hallelujah...

Yes, I'm shouting full-size thumbnail, in all caps:

Still old enough to be my Daddy, which is why the entire notion of having a crush on him all of these years seems a bit crazy. It isn't when you consider that in my early youth, there were not that many Black action heroes. There were not that many Black leading men. In fact, when I think back to the 80s to compile a list of Black heartthrobs, this is who made the cut:
Todd Bridges
Haywood Nelson
Kristoff St. John
Kevin Hooks
The dude who guest starred on the Facts of Life as Tootie's boyfriend
(And damn, I had to think really hard to come up with this list...)

Important Edit: The Hub raised the issue of scarce Latino and Asian heartthrobs during this same time period, and it was agreed that I needed to include a few honorable mentions: Bruce Lee (who was dead by this point); Bruce Li, the doppelganger; Mario Lopez (who was not a star until the end of the decade); and Menudo.

Mind you, there were other Black men on television and in the movies, but I'm sorry, nobody was checking for Mr. T. And while Carl Weathers had been on the scene since the 70s in Rocky, I just don't remember him getting that same level of sex symbol attention. I definitely did not think of Eddie Murphy as an 80s sex symbol (not even in that red leather outfit), so unless one made an effort to notice other Black actors such as Clifton Davis on Amen, the brother from Matlock, professional athletes (dare I say O.J. Simpson), or LeRoy from Fame* was all about BILLY DEE.

* or Michael (Michael DeLorenzo from the same show) 

The way I remember it, we went to see The Empire Strikes Back at the movies one summer with no idea that Hans Solo had a Black friend. I won't make the obvious leap to suggesting that we didn't think there were Black people in space, because we knew better, but that thought would not have been entirely unfounded given the times. And despite the betrayal that should have made us hate Lando Calrissian it did just the opposite. Every Black boy left the theater wanting to be Lando with a light saber even though he wasn't a Jedi (before the appearance of Mace Windu). And those of us who were too young for unpure thoughts wanted Lando to be our Daddy...

Once we took notice of him, it was all about Billy Dee. It was all about Billy Dee in movies like Brian's Song and The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars. It was all about Billy Dee as Diana Ross' leading man in Lady Sings the Blues and Mahogany. It was all about Billy Dee when he guest starred on The Jeffersons. It was all about Billy Dee when he showed up on Dynasty as Dominique Devereaux's long lost husband. It was all about Billy Dee even when he was hawking cheap malt liquor.

If there was a need for a romantic Black male lead, it was Billy Dee because Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte were too old, James Earl Jones looked exactly as he does now, and Greg Morris wasn't around enough for us to fully appreciate. Sure there were other good-looking Black men who got our attention, but no one memorable appeared on the scene until after 1984. I have no idea why that becomes the magical year when things changed, but suddenly we had options. We got Denzel Washington as the young Black doctor on St. Elsewhere, Blair Underwood and Jimmy Smits as lawyers on L.A. Law, and Philip Michael Thomas as a detective on Miami Vice. We had Black super-couples on our favorite soap operas. There were guys our age with regular TV gigs like Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Carl Anthony Payne, and Alfonso Ribeiro. And there was New Edition!

By the end of the decade, Billy Dee sightings became rare and unexpected, like when he showed up as Harvey Dent in Batman or as Berry Gordy in The Jacksons. By the 90s, there were plenty of good-looking Black leading men all over Hollywood, so Billy Dee didn't have to work as hard. Instead, he could stretch himself in a role that allowed him to be a cranky recluse or old player, or as a parody of himself as an eternal lady-killer (so it only made sense that he would be the mentor to Tim Meadows' The Ladies Man).

I'm not really heading anywhere with this piece except to acknowledge the original Daddy Mac/Most Interesting Man in the World because it occurred to me that as I have been writing remembrances and appreciations and revisiting pop culture icons from my past, Billy Dee is still alive and deserves that same love. He still looks good, still has that swagger...and hey, if they pulled Harrison Ford and Mark Hamil out of mothballs for these sequels, why not Billy Dee too? And even if he only gets to be in the new Star Wars movie for a few scenes before they kill him off, that's just enough to get me to the movies.