No form of scripted storytelling is more intimate than theater. Actors get one shot at delivering their best each night, as the audience brings a different energy and in turn receives a slightly different performance than the night before. With theater, the third wall between actor and audience is fluid, held in place by a delicate agreement and willing suspension of disbelief that transports the audience beyond the limitations set into their own imagination and frames of reference. This kind of intimate exchange creates a divine experience, uniquely tailored to the viewers' perspectives.
Translate this kind of power through a decidedly black lens and what you get is pure magic. Here are a 13 black women playwrights who are creating that magic on the stage:
1. Sarah Jones
This month, Tony Award-winning playwright, actress and poet Sarah Jones is adding to her extensive resume a new production, Sell/Buy/Date, exploring the real-life experiences of workers in the sex industry.
2. Dael Orlandersmith
Celebrated Obie Award-winning playwright Dael Orlandersmith delivers a moving performance in Forever. The one-woman show explores how Orlandersmith's troubled upbringing as a daughter to an abusive alcoholic mother cultivated her creativity as she escaped her reality through the arts.
3. Charlayne Woodard
You may recognize Charlayne Woodard for her role as Aunt Vivian's baby sister from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In addition to her long resume of film and television acting roles, Woodard is also a talented playwright. With plays Pretty Fire, Neat, In Real Life, The Night Watcher and Flight to her credit, Woodard proves to be a profound storyteller.
4. Radha Blank
With masterful plays like Kenya, Seed, Nannyland, Reverb, Casket Sharp, and American Schemes under her belt, Radha Blank has seamlessly transitioned from New York playwright to Los Angeles screenwriter of wildly successful shows such as Empire and The Get Down.
5. Anna Deavere Smith
You might recognize Anna Deavere Smith for her many roles as a television actress, but in her most recent production, "Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education," the professor, actress and playwright explores the crisis of America's education system, mass incarceration and their effects on the black community.
6. Lydia R. Diamond
With a penchant for adapting works of renowned African-American writers such as Nikki Giovanni, Harriet Jacobs and Toni Morrison, Lydia R. Diamond's play Stick Fly premiered on Broadway in 2011. With the backing of producers like Alicia Keys and filmmaker Rueben Cannon, Diamond's play about the complex reality of today's black middle class was very well received.
7. Lynn Nottage
Columbia University professor, Yale University lecturer, and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage's work frequently speaks from the perspective of black women. Her latest play, Sweat looks at the demise of industrial jobs and the adverse effect it's had on the working class in America.
8. Katori Hall
After its critically acclaimed premiere in London, Katori Hall's play The Mountaintop — about the last night in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., came to Broadway in 2011. Staring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Basset, the play was a certified hit for the Memphis-born journalist, actress and playwright.
9. Sigrid Gilmer
Los Angeles-based playwright Sigrid Gilmer writes comedies with a strong bend toward black history. In her hit play, Harry and the Thief, Gilmer has her protagonist travel back in time to supply Harriet Tubman with 21st century guns.
10. Suzan-Lori Parks
Novelist, screenwriter and first African-American playwright to receive a Pulitzer Prize for her work, Suzan Lori Parks, will be honored with a four-part series of productions dedicated to her work, kicking off with the October premiere of The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World.
11. Christina Anderson
With works such as, The Ashes Under Gait City, Good Goods, Man in Love, Blacktop Sky, Hollow Roots, How to Catch Creation, and Drip, playwright Christina Anderson was selected by American Theatre Magazine as an up-and-coming artist “whose work will be transforming America’s stages for decades to come.”
12. Ifa Bayeza
In The Ballad of Emmett Till, award-winning playwright Ifa Bayeza translates the story of the brutally slain Chicago youth through his own perspective. With works like Amistad Voices, Club Harlem, and Homer G and the Rhapsodies, Bayeza brings our stories to life on stage.
13. Danai Gurira
In her Tony Award-winning play Eclipsed, Zimbabwean American actress and playwright Danai Gurira tells the story of five Liberian women during the Second Liberian Civil War. It was the first ever Broadway premiere to employ an all black, all female cast.
If it's true that art should reflect the times, these ladies definitely have a finger on the pulse of the moment.
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A federal judge threw out a plagiarism case against Beyoncé by filmmaker Matthew Fulks, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Bey's Lemonade broke the Internet, then the case was filed in June. The love for the release spread quickly. Then, Fulks cited nine problem areas for the lawsuit. Specifically low-light shots of a "parking garage" and shots of "graffiti on walls."
Fulks is the creative director at WDRB, a Louisville, Kentucky-based news station. He claims more than half the scenes in the trailer for Lemonade are direct lifts from Palinoia. He also claimed he'd been contacted by Chris Thomas, a representative of a group called MS MR. He lists Thomas in the lawsuit as a "Columbia Affiliate." Then, Thomas emailed Palinoia to Bryan Younce at Columbia. He alleges that Younce asked for his information, then reached out to Thomas and asked him to provide a treatment for consideration by Columbia. Less than six months later, Younce and Bey began shooting Lemonade.
Unbothered, Bey's legal team responded. They countered that Lemonade was about “an African-American woman who progresses through stages of suspicion, denial, anger and, ultimately, reconciliation in her relationship,” according to Complex.
Judge Rakoff concluded that Beyonce´did nothing wrong. He didn't offer up his reasons at trial but did write, "Upon full consideration of the parties' briefs and oral arguments, the Court grants defendants' motion. A memorandum explaining the reasons for this ruling will issue in due course, at which time final judgment will be entered."
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Black women heroes have been in the panels at Marvel Comics since the year 1972. 2016 marks the first black woman hired at Marvel to write a story arc. This is a celebratory time, but also a sobering one. Because no, it shouldn't have taken that long. But now that the time is upon us, how could we not be happy about it?
I've seen talk about the pressure that will come with World of Wakanda. As far as I'm concerned, there is none. Men have had the chance to ruin comic book runs since forever. Black women deserve that same chance, probably even more than them. My mother grew up in a world where black women superheroes didn't represent her experience as a black girl, then woman. Because of our community's constant push for representation, hopefully my daughter won't (whenever I have one). My homie Joi was a guest on ThreeFifs podcast a few days ago, and their discussion really made me think. Marvel, and plenty of other companies, still have a long way to go. But the examples of black girl/women characters we do/will have, in books and on screen, are really special.
Our Iron Man is a 15 year-old black girl.
And she's inspired by a real teenage black girl, not an image of what black girls should or shouldn't be.
The smartest person in the universe is a 9 year-old black girl.
The fiercest warriors in Wakanda are black women.
Detective Misty Knight holds Harlem down just as much as Luke Cage.
Thanks to a timely decision, Asgard's Valkyrie is a black woman, too.
And our newest addition – armed with #BlackGirlMagic and a pen.
These aren't the only black women in Marvel comics/shows/films. That's a listicle for another day. And there are some talented black women (like my fave Afua Richardson) on the artwork as well. Not to mention the thousands and thousands of amazing, creative black women in the indie comics/media space.
But as the biggest Marvel fanboy on earth, it feels good to know that a black woman is writing my Marvel comics. And I hope I get to have that feeling at least a hundred more times in the rest of this year alone. It's time to invest as much into who writes our characters as must as the characters themselves. Don't stop here, Marvel. I'd like to think it had something to do with my column post asking you hire black women. And if didn't, don't worry, I'm taking a slice of credit anyway.
The very last thing anyone should be thinking is that the quota has been filled. We have miles yet to climb. But there's 100 percent no harm in enjoying the journey to the destination.
Thanks for reading Strictly 4 My Blerds. Leave a comment, I read and reply to all of them. Hit the share button and tag a friend who needs to see this.
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When one door closes, a black woman sticks her foot in and kicks it back open. We have always made a way out of no way. Whether it's civil rights, education, sports, or entertainment, black women arrive and then thrive.
The hashtag, #BlackWomenDidThat, proves we are always on the front lines, invoking change one first at a time.
Bow in the presence of greatness.
This black woman designed Jackie Kennedy's iconic wedding dress. Ann Lowe. #BlackWomenDidThat pic.twitter.com/zKJKK2Wg44
— (((Magic & Real))) (@DarlingEbony) July 29, 2016
JESSIE MAPLE. First Black woman admitted to the New York camera operators union. Indie filmmaker #BlackWomenDidThat pic.twitter.com/CXKGrsqgMV
— Robin Shanea (@rshanea722) July 29, 2016
Henrietta Lacks - her cells (used w/o her permission) were used to create the immortal cell line #BlackWomenDidThat pic.twitter.com/GRBhuTz8qH
— Rebecca Theodore (@FilmFatale_NYC) July 29, 2016
Queen Nanny successfully defeated British army many times in 1700's Jamaica & freed 1000+ slaves #BlackWomenDidThat pic.twitter.com/MQ806rqecd
— Ida's Revenge (@profsassy) July 29, 2016
Dr.Mae Carol Jemison, the first African American woman to travel in space. #BlackWomenDidThat pic.twitter.com/aUe9237Mrc
— ☜═㋡ J!M (◣﹏◢) (@_JMOxQ) July 29, 2016
Diahann Carroll 1st BW 2 star as a non-domestic in her own tv show, https://t.co/2eiODocGd6 #BlackWomenDidThat pic.twitter.com/63I61Jadxn
— Tonya GJ Prince (@TonyaGJPrince) July 29, 2016
@violadavis - First Black actress to win Leading Actress In A Drama Emmy #BlackWomenDidThat pic.twitter.com/s24NzSeBfP
— Rebecca Theodore (@FilmFatale_NYC) July 29, 2016
#BlackWomenDidThat cracked that glass ceiling that just shattered #ShirleyChisholm pic.twitter.com/j1poFbzdPk
— #TroilusCresibo (@LeslieMac) July 29, 2016
Thank these women...
Jackie Ormes was the 1st African-American woman 2 work as a professional newspaper cartoonist.#BlackWomenDidThat pic.twitter.com/GvUpsNKn5K
— ♐Skin of Becky♐ (@IKilledBecky) July 29, 2016
Roxane Gay, the first black woman ever to write for Marvel. Let that sink in. IN. EVER. #BlackWomenDidThat pic.twitter.com/jzcSCuHFGS
— The Lemonade (@LemonadeShow) July 29, 2016
Gwendolyn Brooks is the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature.#BlackWomenDidThat pic.twitter.com/fsPD78Xb9h
— ♐Skin of Becky♐ (@IKilledBecky) July 29, 2016
for breaking barriers one record at a time.
Florence Griffin Joyner world record holder of 100m & 200m dash. One of the greats T&F athletes #BlackWomenDidThat pic.twitter.com/vvt206TkT0
— Regine Hunter's Wigs (@PorterPizzazz) July 29, 2016
Serena Williams: 22 grand slam titles, one of the greatest athletes of all time#BlackWomenDidThat pic.twitter.com/S8KgvmOlqz
— Regine Hunter's Wigs (@PorterPizzazz) July 29, 2016
Simone Biles, first woman ever to win 3 straight all around World Championships in gymnastics. #BlackWomenDidThat pic.twitter.com/URfB2dCXbU
— Da Funky Wakandan♿♒ (@Tripping_Crutch) July 29, 2016
They went from segregation to graduation.
Dorothy Counts 15 years-old when she walked into an all-white school. https://t.co/Btapdn2Ipx #BlackWomenDidThat pic.twitter.com/3ZTCDXTRcX
— Tonya GJ Prince (@TonyaGJPrince) July 29, 2016
Skipped 2nd grade. salutatorian. 2 degrees from Ivy leagues. Writer. Lawyer. & rocking Givenchy #BlackWomenDidThat pic.twitter.com/4JFJ80k9Lq
— Ruthless (@RuthOhanu) July 29, 2016
Tera Poole became the first Black Valedictorian at the world's first school of dentistry. #BlackWomenDidThatpic.twitter.com/7snVlp43rf
— Philip Lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) July 29, 2016
So don't rain on our parade.
"white women: y'all tweeting #BlackWomenDidThat is raci-" pic.twitter.com/2t5V9LjCkP
— ️ (@tidesbarone) July 29, 2016
This ain't for you. It's for us.
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There is beauty in the strength and grace of the black woman. When we need her the most she puts us on her backs, standing tall against those who threaten our existence. She is a nurturer, a natural protector — a heroine who doesn't need a cape.
Ieshia Evans epitomizes this black woman. The photo of her poised body looking onward onto her oppressor as her dress danced on that Baton Rouge street is more than just a moment in time. It is the state of existence of the black woman.
As black women, we face a double-edged sword of oppression. We are everything that the white man is not. Our skin is bathed in melanin. We birth children and we do not hide behind the mask of privilege as we have none. We are strength in the face of power.
There is no coincidence in the fact that two women, two worlds apart, Tess Asplund and Ieshia Evans, so similarly found themselves asserting their black womanhood as they stood across from the symbols of white power in their respective countries. For Tess in Sweden, it was the Neo-Nazis of the Nordish Resistance Movement, who are known for targeting anti-racists. For Ieshia in the United States, it was police officers who so often end up killing unarmed black men. The power that comes with whiteness transcends country lines, as does the strength of the black woman.
This narrative, however, didn't start with Tess Asplund and end with Ieshia Evans.
When I first saw the picture from Baton Rouge, I couldn't shake it. I immediately thought of Tess Asplund, as did many others and knew that these two moments were only glimpses into the state of being that is black womanhood. A probe into the matter brought me to the iconic moment that we first learned of in elementary school when studying the Civil Rights movement — the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
On December 1st, 1955 Rosa Parks dared to sit in the front of the bus, where only whites were allowed.
The infamous picture of the boycott shows Parks juxtaposed against a white man. She sat there, unbothered. Her strength prevailed through her resistance, quite similarly to the actions that Tess Asplund and Ieshia Evans would take 61 years later. The power that comes with whiteness transcends time, as does the strength of the black woman.
Yet again, it does not end here.
Across the United States, black women are taking to the front lines in the name of #BlackLivesMatter.
Video after video surfaces of enraged young black women shouting at police officers during protests throughout the country. Here they are not still but they are not silent and their strength cannot be denied. In fact, their words echo the feelings that were catalysts for the defiance of Evans, Asplund and Parks, each woman miles apart in time and space.
"There is blood on these streets sir. Why are we going to continue being peaceful when they are killing my brothers and sisters?" —Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Baton Rouge is not having it...wow😧 pic.twitter.com/U1KcC6tIn8
— logizzle (@iRUNx_LA) July 10, 2016
"I'm tired of these funerals. Of this blood. On these streets. On our streets." —Oakland, California
"I need one answer. There's so many cops out here, but zero answers." — Rochester, New York
This is needed to clarify previous video. This is what happened before the woman was arrested while we spoke w/ her pic.twitter.com/BRoOQzd4Xd
— Tara Grimes (@TaraTWCNews) July 9, 2016
"We are not weak. We did not come from weak people. We did not come from weak ancestors. Our people are survivors, thrivers, warriors." —Baton Rouge, Louisiana
When it hits home and the pain is too much. This came from the ❤️#AltonSterling pic.twitter.com/znCpEChkDr
— Chucky Colin (@ChuckyColin) July 11, 2016
"Why is our skin color a weapon? What did I do to y'all?" — Oakland, California
These are carefree black women sparkling in the kind of black girl magic that moves mountains.
But, do we have any other choice? We are at an institutionalized disadvantage that can only be overcome through perseverance and the strength that comes from being suffocated at the hands of our oppressors. The double-edged sword of being both black and a woman is no longer a weapon that can be used to cut us down. We've taken it for our own and are using it to fight our way to true freedom.
"Black women are made out of brown sugar, cocoa, honey and gold. And the strength of ten thousand moons." — Unknown
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Every morning in New York is the same. I drag myself to work in a sleepy haze. I get on the train at Classon, floating by faces, blank blurs passing with the on-and-off shuffle of each stop. I get off at 42nd street and walk two blocks to my office. The quick walk is perfect on a rainy day, but never quite enough time in the crisp September air. I ride the elevator to the 7th floor. I grab an orange on the way to my desk. I say passing “Good mornings” to faces I know. I finally find my way to my window seat. In between meetings and deadlines, I online shop, read the latest in “20 Things No One Tells You About Your 20s” and procrastinate my way to Facebook.
As I scroll through my usual feed of baby announcements, grad school graduations and the inevitable hometown rants, I see an out-of-place old face: My grandmother’s. The post is my cousin Baby’s. We were close once, but now our exchanges are limited to a wall post once a year, “Happy Birthday! Love you. Miss you!” Baby’s post is a picture of our grandmother. Hands on hips, draped in a brown shawl, hair pinned up in a loose grey bun, her pose candid as if someone yelled her name and she turned quickly. The caption is some novel-length explanation of her beauty, punctuated with a bold #RestInParadise. I am frozen. My eyes go hot. I bite my bottom lip hard trying to hold back the frown. I look up from my computer, make eye contact with my partner Laura sitting across from me, my eyes watering. Laura asks, “What’s going on? Why are you crying?” I will the well of tears away from the edge of my eyelids and respond, “ I just found out my grandmother died.” She gasps, and says “Oh no, I’m sorry.” I spend the rest of the workday in my head, trying to understand why Baby didn’t call to tell me before sharing it with her world of acquaintances. Trying to make sense of how detached we had become.
That night, alone in my portion of a four bedroom in Bed-Stuy, my mother calls.
It’s nearly 11 o’clock. She must have just finished her desk job at the Atlanta airport. She probably just got home, sat her bag down, and took a seat in our floral covered living room. She has no idea I already know the news. I listen as she struggles to find the words.
I tell her, “I know, I saw it on Facebook.” My voice is muffled, low and nasally. She says pained, “I don’t know how all that stuff works.” She says, “When you can’t stop crying, you pray.” Before our 'Goodbyes' and “I love you’s” My mother tells me, “We were all so lucky to have known Grandma Lona, all so fortunate.”
It was true, my father’s mother was magic. Mother of 12, a woman with 9 names: Lona Mae Idabelle Elizabeth Frances Polly Anne Randolph Joiner, Jr., was no typical woman. She carried with her a family tradition of naming, not only sons after fathers, but daughters after mothers. I knew her as soft. She aged head first, with every stress and death and worry and sleepless night hanging from her head like a lazy crown of diamond, crystal and quartz. She had laugh lines etched by tears and a subtle hunch to her back, worn from all the love she had to pick up and carry along the way. The sag in her arms, she’d say, was just her angel wings forming. That night I dreamt of her.
The next morning, the weight of my white down blanket and yesterday’s event is too heavy for me to push off and start my daily routine.
My cat paces back and forth at the edge of my bed, meowing in his usual ‘Feed Me’ high-pitch. I can’t be bothered. I’ve only just graduated college and entered the workforce. And now, two months into my job as a copywriter in Manhattan, I have to pen a succinct and appropriate email to my boss, a nice man, but still a stranger to me.
Hi Michael, Unfortunately my grandmother passed away and I will need to take some time off.
He replies within the hour: Sept 4th, 9:43 AM.
Jessica, I’m so sorry to hear that. Take all the time you need. I’ve arranged for HR to handle your bereavement.
He doesn’t know that “all the time I need” is another summer in Ohio.
It had been at least 10 years since I spent a summer there.
In my childhood Julys, when I was out of school and it got sticky hot in Georgia, me, mom, dad, and my two older brothers, Aaron and Larry, piled into our purple minivan, appropriately named Barney. We listened to Motown and played the license plate game before I was eventually lulled to sleep by the familiar rock of the road.
Eight hours later we arrived at 5854 Wyatt Avenue in Cincinnati, Ohio. Greeted by the night hum of crickets and cicadas, I sleepily gathered myself from the far back seat and made my way into the house. Wood panel lined the walls and the tiling was three shades of brown. It was dim, just a small warm lamp in the far corner of the living room or the simmering glow of the TV. I knew my grandfather would be in his chair, wrapped in a blanket up to his neck that my grandmother had snuggly tucked around his body. I hugged him first. My grandmother close behind leaned in, asked if he knew who I was and he replied, “That’s Stevie’s girl.”
I knew my father’s father as hard, but time had worn him down. I’d only heard stories and seen videos of the days before his sickness settled in. Days when he said whole sentences. Days when he still sat in his chair in the corner of the living room with his flyswatter, fanning away summer flies and swatting any kid that got too out of hand or ran by too quickly.
My grandmother was all the energy he didn’t have anymore.
She sat down right in his lap and asked if she was hurting him, like she’d been doing since she was 16 and they met in the little grocery store my grandfather’s father owned. She kissed his cheek and rubbed the little hair left on his head before helping him up and to their room. She walked him through the living room, past the narrow kitchen and the oak kitchen table with the mismatched chairs. Past the double paned glass door that stayed open for every afternoon barbecue and didn’t have any blinds. Past the basement door I was too scared to open. Through the long narrow hallway past the bathroom, the spare room and the backroom that housed the old upright piano. She counterbalanced his steps all the way to the end of the house in the same way she’d done for the 30 years they lived at the place on Wyatt.
We all found our sleeping spots. My brothers and I slept in the living room. Two of us on the couch and one on the floor wrapped in handmade blankets. My mom and dad were in the small backroom across the hall from my grandmother and grandfather. Sleep was easy in the window wrapped living room. Blinds closed. One window cracked. The house fell silent, but outside the night hummed.
My grandmother ushered in the sun with 4 a.m. prayers. And with the rise of light, the procession began. My Aunt Val arrived first with her daughter, Valerie and son, Tracy. Big Val was loud. She rooted for the Steelers in a family full of Bengals and Browns fans. She was small — 5’1’’— but she didn’t let that stop her from getting into yelling matches in defense of her team. We called little Valerie, Baby. At 10, she was closest to my age, just 8 months older. She was a dangerous little girl, tomboy tough and more outspoken than me by a mile. She fought with her older brother Tracy constantly, getting into full blown cursing matches. The only time they were friends is when they were plotting and scheming together. She was lighter-skinned than me, had boobs already, and could sing. She was my summer sister.
Baby and I spent our days together outside. We left our parents to greet the procession and ran out the screen door into the warm afternoon sun. We jumped rope with Cici, Blanche and Vivian from down the street. Baby tried to teach me double-dutch, but I never quite got it. We rode borrowed bikes down the steep hill at the far side of the neighborhood where the houses got bigger. We sat on Ms. Monica’s porch talking and eating popsicles she passed us through the window. We ran by the house with the Rottweiler. We laughed as he barked at the braids bouncing on our shoulders. We snuck through the neighbor’s backyard, stole handfuls of dill from the garden and ate little bits at the bottom of our driveway. We ran inside only when the sun got old, deep orange and hung low in the sky.
Before I swung the screen door open I heard my family laughing in a chorus. Voices half-harmonized speaking over each other in swirling sentences. The three short steps from the front door to the living room felt like walking center stage. I slowed before I popped my head around the corner. I readied my eyes to save picture memories of the room wrapped in windows, lazy daylight slipping in creating glowing silhouettes of my family.
My Aunt Lona, 35 and the youngest of the 12, was first to jump up when I appeared, sweat-dried and smelling of outside. She exclaimed in her high pitch, “Is that my Jessie!?” I smiled big and she ran over singing my name, “Jessie, Jessie girl.” The conversations swirled around me as I did my round of hugs.
My Uncle Tony, in his fluffy baritone, “Hey girl, you are just too pretty.”
My Aunt Cynt, cigarette in hand, E&J and Pepsi in a blue plastic cup, “You gettin’ tall.”
She looked over at my mother, “Rhonda, How do you do all that hair?”
My Uncle Phillip gave me a tight squeeze. His son, Phillip Jr., otherwise known as Boo, was a round boy a year younger than me. He gave me an even tighter squeeze. I asked about the aunts and uncles and cousins not present. They were accounted for — visits with their other side of the family, day trips to King’s Island, or otherwise wandering.
I found my place, somewhere on the floor, tucked near where my mother sat. They passed new stories back and forth, gave updates on babies and deaths, and settled into reminiscing on when they were all young under the same roof. I marveled at the way they had five conversations at once. How they spanned a brown rainbow from near white to deep chocolate, but still looked related. How the room boomed. How they managed to figure out what was important and where they needed to jump in to defend themselves. How one of them could say one word and the whole room would burst into a belly laugh. Uncle Tony broke out into Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” and Aunt Lona joined in. We all hopped up and danced around the living room. My grandma shook her hips in the middle of the circle. And someone yelled out “Gon’ Mama!”
With 12 kids of her own and countless grandkids, my grandma could still take a moment and make you feel like the only person in the room.
She saw me: Observant, quiet and curious, so she became my summer school. She taught me to make mandalas. How to surround myself with colorful people. She taught me to crochet. How to tie heart strings together. She taught me hand bone. How to clap and praise without shame.
For two months, I drank these days like desert water. I learned about my family and love and the things they never taught me in school. I took my lessons home at the end of every summer until I was 13. That was the year my grandfather died. One night my grandma walked him through the living room all the way to the end of the house and he found rest. In the morning, Aunt Val found him too asleep to wake up. I never saw my grandmother cry. She prayed and taught my 2-year-old cousin, Rikki, that our grandpa was in heaven.
That same year, a month after burying my grandfather, 5854 Wyatt Avenue burnt to the ground. The fire started in the basement. It set memories and dance floor and summer Mecca all ablaze. It was a brightness so big it took out all the light and left ash. My Aunt Lenny was there when it happened. She helped my grandmother from the far back room out the double-paned glass door. My grandmother didn’t cry for the house. She thanked God that he had taken my grandfather before the fire. Aunt Cynt asked my grandma to come live with her, but my grandma found a smaller place of her own where she could make a home. It was a duplex in a quiet neighborhood, not too far from the old place. She stood alone as the last pillar we all tied ourselves to.
The summers were never the same after that. No one roof could house us all. I had to hop from house to house each visit. Baby and Val and Tracy moved around a lot, and didn’t have the room for me to spend long days or whole summers living with them. I stayed with my mother’s side of the family. My two summer months became a summer week, then a weekend, then whatever time my mother or father could get off work. I grew up, went to college in New York and made myself a satellite of my own family. Built by them but pushed off to create my own orbit. I spent my summers interning in the city. We didn’t pile into the purple minivan anymore. We went full years without a visit. I called my grandmother every-so-often. I called less when she started forgetting and moved in with Aunt Cynt. It was too hard to know that she had forgotten all the things she taught me.
It was too hard to know she didn’t know me.
But really none of my family knew me anymore. Everything they knew of me was from my dad’s bragging. And everything I knew of them was from choppy Skype calls every other weekend. We had become headlines to one another: ‘Baby Has Two Babies of Her Own’ ‘Jessica Gets a New Gig’. It’s no wonder, ‘Grandma Passes: #RestInParadise’ came so easily.
Now at 22, the trip to Ohio is no summer celebration. I board my Friday afternoon flight from LaGuardia to Dayton. I sleep most of the way and touchdown at dusk. My mother, father and brothers drive the eight hours from Georgia and wait for me near the small baggage claim. We drive to my mother’s sister’s house. I sleep alone there. The bed is comfortable but the room is cold.
In the morning, my family is first to arrive at the church. We are there even before the casket. A woman who works for the church asks how we are related to the deceased. I wince. My mother explains our relation, we’re handed funeral programs and we find seats. My mother and father sit in the first row, me, Aaron and Larry in the third. Family slowly trickles in, filling the deep blue pews. The casket arrives. They place it at the bottom of the pulpit in between overflowing mounds of white flowers. I think of how my grandmother used to say, “Don’t bring me flowers when I’m gone. I’ll have no use for them.” I look through the program and I’m listed as a flower-bearer, meant to carry a bouquet behind the casket as the pallbearers carry my grandmother out of the church.
When they open the casket, Aaron is silent. Larry takes a long, deep breath. My mother comforts my father as he sobs the words, “That’s my momma.” I stare at what couldn’t be my grandmother. I don’t remember her as dull grey, she was never this skinny and that isn’t her nose. My mother asks if we want to go up. Larry says, “Mm mm,” and at 34 years old sounds like a scared child. I stand up and walk over to the casket. Baby comes up behind me, wraps her arm around my waist and we stand there in silence. We are still sisters, blood bound forever. The family my grandmother made is all around. The church is nearly full of people with the blood of Lona Mae Idabelle Elizabeth Francis Polly Anne Randolph Joiner, Jr. We cry and manage to laugh through the memorial speeches. We hug and cry more through the priest’s prayers. As the sunlight pours into the chapel through dust-covered colored glass, we are all painted with light. Just like the sun that shone through 5854 Wyatt. My Uncle Tony sings “Never Would Have Made It.” I grab Larry’s hand, then Aaron’s.
I look up at each of them. As we sing, “I’m stronger, I’m wiser, I’m better, much better,” I know it is in my blood to create closeness, to love my family and to make it known as often as possible. Just like my grandmother taught me.
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On Monday, Apple hosted its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), in which it showcases new projects and software coming to its devices. We learned about things such as Siri coming to the Mac, full-screen effects and iMessage apps. However, one particular melanated Apple executive with natural locs stole the show!
Bozoma Saint John is a rockstar. She led Pepsi-Cola North America’s music and entertainment marketing group, and in 2014 she was named the head of global marketing for Beats Music (now Apple Music). Don't get it confused, she was awesome before Apple, netting Pepsi endorsements from artists such as Nicki Minaj and Kanye West, and getting Pepsi sponsorship at The Grammys, the Super Bowl and more. She wasn't named one of Billboard's Top Women in Music or an ADCOLOR Rockstar honoree for nothing!
In a feature with XO Necole, we learned that Bozoma is all about crafting authentic messages that are relevant to today's culture. That Apple Music ad with Kerry, Taraji and Mary J? Yep, she was behind the scenes of that. As a single mother of West African descent who lost her husband to cancer, yet still relocated to L.A. for this Apple Music gig, Bozoma is the epitome of #BlackGirlMagic.
That magic was extra bright today as she took the spotlight at the keynote address:
She got in formation and was ready for this moment.
Glory and honor and praise to the Most High. I'm ready. #Apple #WWDC #AppleMusic #AppleNews pic.twitter.com/z94Lr4PLbN
— Bozoma Saint John (@SaintBoz) June 13, 2016
She took the stage as a woman of color, speaking on behalf of one of the biggest brands in the world.
A woman of color, Bozoma Saint John, out to present Apple Music. pic.twitter.com/jJDNL4WdI1
— Matthew Panzarino (@panzer) June 13, 2016
She presented the new features for Apple Music, including its new interface. The best part? She used Ghanaian music.
SHE’S PLAYING GHANAIAN MUSIC?! BOZOMA FOREVER. pic.twitter.com/g6ElI408Le
— Kwame Opam (@kwameopam) June 13, 2016
Everyone LOVED her.
Bozoma Saint John is the best thing to happen to an apple event in a long time. #WWDC2016
— Zachary Richard (@ZRichard4) June 13, 2016
bozoma saint john basically came to wwdc to embarrass all the white men
— alyssa bereznak (@alyssabereznak) June 13, 2016
Apple: please let Bozoma Saint John do the rest of the keynote. She’s fucking amazing.
— Eduardo Arcos (@earcos) June 13, 2016
Representation always matters...
Yo, other companies take notes of this at #WWDC. I've said it once, I'll say it again...REPRESENTATION MATTERS. pic.twitter.com/2CiRYGxHgY
— Iheanyi Ekechukwu (@kwuchu) June 13, 2016
A Black lady exec rocking natural hair at #WWDC2016?
— Safia Abdalla (@captainsafia) June 13, 2016
...and she was standing up there as herself, unapologetically.
YOOOOOO @SAINTBOZ WAS LIKE "IMA BE 1000% BLACK ON THIS STAGE!!" #WWDC2016 pic.twitter.com/2gZuGGLluh
— EricaJoy (@EricaJoy) June 13, 2016
She needs to be a brand spokesperson at this point. Let's see her more.
Dear @Tim_Cook: Please promote Bozoma Saint John (@SaintBoz) to the highest levels of your company ASAP. 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
— Christian Bell (@cshbell) June 13, 2016
Apple, I beg of you, do not let this be the last we see of Bozoma on a platform like this! We need more!
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Here's a big moment in #BlackGirlMagic! This 29-year-old is set to become the new editor of Teen Vogue!
Elaine Welteroth will take over the helm of the publication as its founding editor, Amy Astley heads over to Architectural Digest, another publication under the Conde Nast umbrella. She made history back in 2012 as this first black beauty and health director, her previous role at the magazine. She has also been in beauty/style editor roles at Glamour and Ebony.
Welteroth is set to be the youngest editor-in-chief in Conde Nast history, and only the second black person to hold the position in the company's 107-year history.
Welteroth is part of a trio tapped to lead the magazine, including Marie Suter as creative director and Phillip Picardi as digital director. They have been endorsed by Anna Wintour, who said, "This team has thoroughly embraced the endless potential of social media and new platforms, and their understanding of the most effective way to use them to connect with audiences, embodies what it means to be an editor today."
Congrats Elaine and we are so excited to see you rock in this new position!
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Tiffany Davis is a name you definitely want to know because we can bet you will hear more about her as she delves into the aerospace engineering field. Davis is set to graduate next month from Georgia Tech and has set the Twittersphere ablaze with her hashtag: #YesImaRocketScientist.
This is what an Aerospace Engineer looks like. #YesImARocketScientist #BlackGirlMagic #GTAE #33Days 🎓🐝 pic.twitter.com/Yy635rt2SK
— Tiffany Nicole (@TiffSaid) April 4, 2016
It seems all her life Davis knew that she wanted to be an engineer of some sort.
“When I was 11 I asked for a circuit board for Christmas because I thought it was cool that this board could play such a huge role in how something works,” says the 20-year-old Washington, DC native.
Boeing’s Engineering Accelerated Hiring Initiative accepted Davis as one of their selective students and she has worked with them ever since. Based on one of her Twitter posts, Tiffany may continue to work with them on some projects post-grad.
Just talked to my mentor at Boeing 😁. Super excited for my projects
— Tiffany Nicole (@TiffSaid) April 8, 2016
Congratulations Tiffany and we cannot wait to see what you do next!
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The term 'black privilege' was created in disparaging response to the concept of white privilege. Peddlers of the term range from non-intersectional liberals to the "we want our country back" crowd.
We've all heard the argument. It's the idea that because black Americans have an entire month dedicated to black history, a television network focused solely on black entertainment and, of course, our very own black president. Then apparently not only is racism over, but black people are the privileged ones. This line of reasoning asserts that the modicum of surface-level progress has somehow balanced the scales against the societal inequality built into the very framework of this country that benefits white people — often at the expense of people of color. White privilege has produced social and educational advantages, generational wealth and, in some instances, a smug sense of entitlement that summons the audacity to feign offense when people of color dare to celebrate themselves despite this adversity.
GIRL. I said Black. https://t.co/8xS6omS7UE
— Johnetta Elzie (@Nettaaaaaaaa) October 16, 2015
This black privilege argument, in all of its contemptuous glory, conveniently glosses over the abject discrimination, demeaning imagery and historic lack of positive representation that creates the need for things such as niche marketing, decidedly positive black images and legal protected classes.
The incremental advancement of a small percentage of black people does not privilege make. Further, the election of this black president, so frequently touted as the ultimate symbol of black privilege, has actually placed a national spotlight on the blatant racism, hate, obstructionism, scapegoating and random racist outbursts that every person of color has experienced on the job.
The term black privilege was designed to do what all victim blaming, racial scapegoating terminology seeks to accomplish: Invalidate our experiences while intimidating people of color into silence and conformity. Although I recognize the trickery at play here, I will say that the recent resurgence of the topic has me thinking about the term black privilege in the purest sense of the term.
Are there special benefits to being black?
The answer for me is – absolutely! It would have been impossible for us to have survived our struggles without adapting certain beneficial skills and characteristics. Although historically we have had to apply all of our energy and aptitude toward surviving, when we redirect this power toward thriving rather than merely enduring, we are unstoppable! It is from this perspective that I have identified seven areas of distinct advantage — honed by our struggle — that black people should use unapologetically to our benefit on a daily basis:
Our survival has hinged on our gut instinct letting us know when to trust and when to be guarded, when to move forward and when to be still. Sprinkle this inner knowing with logic and strategy, and watch how far it propels you.
Our faith looks different, which is why we tend to praise differently. Our faith is more than just cerebral, philosophical or theoretical, it is REAL. Our collective stories are laced with miraculous just in the nick of time narratives of supernatural feats, inexplicable by conventional logic. It is this faith that has delivered us from crisis, carried us through struggle and planted us stronger on the other side. When we give ourselves permission to apply this power toward purpose, nothing is impossible.
It's said that happiness is based on favorable circumstance while joy radiates from within. Our ability to extract comedy, even amidst grueling pain and suffering, is unparalleled. #BlackJoy is a revolutionary act. Our ability to tap into our interior reserve of laughter has been the therapy that has fostered us through generations of mental and physical abuse.
Though the stereotype of the strong black woman (man or child) has been harmful in many ways, the truth is that our history has honed a certain fortitude. This is not to say that we should deny or suppress our vulnerabilities, but there is nothing shameful in owning our strength and using it to our advantage. It is a HUGE advantage!
Our ability to understand and share the struggles of others never ceases to amaze me. We know what it feels like to marginalized, bullied and victimized. Our collective empathy, compassion and protective instincts are unbelievably strong.
We know how to code-switch to fit into any environment. Whether or not it's fair that we should have to do this is another argument, but the ability to flex to our surroundings can definitely be used as an asset.
We know how to make something out of nothing. The same talent and ingenuity our ancestors used to convert undesirable scraps of food into flavorful delicacies is now being used to create groundbreaking technology, forge unique business opportunities and set all the popular trends. Why do you think everyone wants to appropriate this?
People of African descent have defied insurmountable odds and prevailed in the face of crippling adversity. So yes, we will be owning and cashing in on our black privilege, which is redefined as the invaluable inheritance of supernatural favor hard-earned through free labor, persecution and injustice. We got this!
Comment below and let us know how you shine!
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The transition from Black History Month to Women's History Month has been nothing short of fluid and phenomenal. On March 22, three black women, U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12,) Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.,) and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) made history as they announced the emergence of the first Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls.
The three women described their achievement as “the first caucus devoted to public policy that eliminates the significant barriers and disparities experienced by Black women.” Out of a total of 430 registered congressional caucuses and member organizations, this one is the first and only that puts black women and their needs at the helm.
“From barriers in education to a gender-based pay gap that widens with race, to disparities in both diagnoses and outcomes for many diseases, our society forces black women to clear many hurdles faced by no other group and asks them to do it with little assistance," states Watson Coleman. "Black women deserve a voice in a policy making process that frequently minimizes, or altogether ignores the systemic challenges they face. This caucus will speak up for them.”
The caucus stemmed from the founder of a civic engagement project by Ifeoma Ike that "prioritizes underrepresented voices in the current political climate, Black and Brown People Vote," along with Sharon Cooper, Tiffany D. Hightower, Nakisha M. Lewis, Shambulia Gadsden Sams, Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, and Sharisse Stancil-Ashford of the #SheWoke committee. This group of 7 powerful black women advocate for the rights of those that look like them, on a shared platform of "advocacy, equity, and sisterhood."
Nakisha M. Lewis took to Twitter to share the good news:
We officially have a Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls! Let's get this work done #SheWoke https://t.co/3rbcV3ziAB
— Nakisha M. Lewis (@NakLew) March 22, 2016
Ike told the Huffington Post that the aim of the caucus is much like that of President Obama's "My Brother's Keeper" campaign, which she helped in part to form, but says she didn't feel it was reciprocated. “I felt like I was supporting my brother but I didn’t feel like my story or any of my sister’s stories were included." Keep in mind that we are only 3 months into 2016, because Ike also relayed that the ideas for not only the Caucus but for #SheWoke were formed just this year. All apart of a conversation for action that would put black women and their issues where they belong — front and center.
The launch reception for the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls is to be held on April 28 in Washington, D.C. If this doesn't just scream #BlackGirlMagic to the mountain tops, then I don't know what does.
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Our favorite naturals in the '90s helped to shape who we are today. They were role models, fashion inspirations and constant reminders of our #BlackGirlMagic. Here are 51 things that our favorite naturalistas taught us that we're oh-so-grateful for.
1. When to tell the truth
2. Simultaneously, when to hold your tongue
3. That peer pressure is all around you
4. And not to fall for it
5. That people will judge you based off of your looks
6. But style and personality are just that — personal.
7. And they get better with time
8. That rapping isn’t just for the boys (Peep MC Lyte in the Background)
9. And neither is dancing
10. That these men will be threatened by your strength
11. But the only person whose opinion matters is yours
12. And no dream is too big
13. How to stand up for yourself
14. How to prioritize a well-rounded life
15. How to address someone touching your hair (No matter how fine they are)
16. How to pray
17. How to defy gravity #afrogoals
18. How to have ownership over your sexuality
19. How to address negative natural hair comments
20. And how to DEMAND respect
21. That love can be found anywhere and in anyone
22. And we are here for love in any kind of way.
23. Especially SELF-LOVE
Say it again!
24. That curl power defines girl power
25. That sisterhood is LOVE
26. And we all need sisterhood at some point.
27. To not only think critically
28. But to live critically
29. And to be self-aware
30. But self-awareness and self-love will still take time.
31. How to pack
32. How to throw and evade the shade
33. How to be trill
34. How to be smooth
35. And know that you can be both at the same damn time
36. Because you aren’t one dimensional
37. That people will disrespect you
38. And to never forget it
39. That sometimes your love interest might call back
40. But sometimes you would have been better off without them
41. So don’t fall for anyone’s games
42. Because actions speak louder than words
43. That becoming an adult is hard
44. And you will make mistakes
45. And you will disappoint yourself
46. And sometimes you’ll feel like giving up
47. But find your peace of mind
48. Tell your insecurities where to go
49. Find your light.
50. And be you your own hype woman.
51. Because you always got you, QUEEN.
Girl, you said that.
What have you learned from being a fabulous naturalista? Let's chat below!
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Hey, I'm Ashley. A Bay-area-bread gif connoisseur and natural hair aficionado. Sometimes I stand behind a camera, sometimes I'm in front of it. We can be friends as long as you can sing all the words to the 'A Different World' intro. Follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat...