I’m a Chick From ‘The Hood’

Sisterly selfie. Location: The Hood.

I’m from the hood. By hood, I mean a black neighborhood with some dynamics stereotypically envisioned. The occasional box Chevy, all candy paint and rims, blares southern hip-hop. Well-known panhandlers request coins. Crime is heavily scrutinized.

However, my community contains more variance than flat thinkers usually consider. My late grandfather, a middle school science teacher, Sunday school leader, and Kappa, purchased the lot our family home is on 50 years ago and had it constructed. He and my late grandmother, a television producer and his wife, built a family in the home.

The hood was more the ‘burbs then. The hood had firmly middle class black families and fostered intergenerational wealth. Homes stayed in families. People could go off and live, work, and learn, while knowing there was somewhere to return. Others “boomeranged” back home to save for big American purchases, like their own homes. The community thrived.

The hood was also uprooted by the 2008 recession, resultant housing bubble and predatory lending. Generational conflicts exist. Priorities look different. Class dynamics are pervasive.

Barbecue wings and crab legs sell faster than froyo. Kale might as well precede nah. The hood is a place where business building is slow, but improving. Yet, it’s also a place of tireless activism.

And we should remember that hoods, or their functional equivalents, are ubiquitous. But, this post is about the northwest quadrant of Jacksonville, Florida, where my family home is.

The hood bred civil rights watchdogs who outed the city for building on unfit lands. My grandpa was on the NAACP’s toxicology board and helped spread awareness. Apparently building schools, homes and parks for black, brown and impoverished white people on toxic lands is standard domestic practice. But, environmental justice is another story.

Living in the hood is similar to attending an HBCU. Stuff happens. Some of it is glorious and soulful. Some of it is annoying or troubling. Stuff usually doesn’t occur because people are black, though. It’ll be another issue.

Social status. Family name. Profession. Associations. Religion. Sexual orientation. Grammar. Dialect. Speech is huge.

One benefit of being from the hood, but attending majority white magnet arts schools and storied black universities, is effective code-switching. Code-switching ≠ being disingenuous. I learned to tailor messages for audiences. Such is common practice where I’m from. It’s a survival mechanism. As Philly-based rapper Meek Mill spits, there’s “levels to this.”

The hood is cool (enough). I can always find hair products, and thrifty ethnic jewelry. People are loud–in speech, dress and persona. Some have ironic nicknames like, 350 pound men called Tiny. Elders know your kinfolk.

Clever children make music with instruments and random objects. Politicians buy groceries with normalized fame. You know, everybody knows them, but mostly nobody’s fazed. That’s just Representative So-and-So.

But, fear persists. Jacksonville locals nearly quiver when finding out that they or their loved ones ventured into the abyss that is the hood (as if a city so large doesn’t have other hoods or tony and tawny areas are exempt from dysfunction).

In Lion King Mufasa cautioned Simba to remain where the light touches. Not trying to grasp for low-hanging fruit here, but what does the light touch? Whose light? Must the hood Macklemore to get the same love?

My parents’ house is not in a war-torn third world country. Guests come over, usually for graduation parties, rousing discussion and/or food. They return safely to their destinations.

Typically, if I expect company, I’m on the front steps Stoop Kid style, or beside the window in our airy living room, prodding my sister to practice piano for her betterment a free show.

The hood is also a place that, as the nation grapples with killings of unarmed black kids, confuses outsiders. Jordan Davis was killed in Jacksonville. Non-Floridians, especially people who don’t know much about Jacksonville, don’t know or care that killer Michael Dunn wasn’t on the northside. Trayvon Martin was slain about two hours away in Sanford. The entire state (nation and world) experience set backs when lives are devalued and wrongfully taken.

On a personal level, the hood houses our family home. It is a reasonable structure that afforded us memories, passport stamps and nationwide travel. But, people from the hood do take preventative measures. Our home has burglar bars, a Rottweiler and an alarm system.

Our home provides comfort, which could develop anywhere. It’s a place with art, music and pets. Pets should not to be confused with siblings; however, some of them live there, too.

It contains gap-toothed pictures of relatives, smells like incense, and has more books than opportunities to read them, but enough room and natural light to try in good faith.

It’s a brick house, and mighty-mighty, a place with people bound by biology and values. It welcomes good energy and intentions. The people at home in our home might surprise you.

More than anything, our home and hood illuminate classism, fear and respectability issues.

Hoods are often good enough to give the world greats, but too shamed for longterm appreciation. Yet, no place or people are perfect. As the nation’s face evolves, so should perspectives of community value. A hood, barrio or cul-de-sac’s composition isn’t the biggest quandary.

Hierarchical personhood is. Do as you wish. And live where you may, but don’t disparage where other people stay.

Here’s 13 Things I Appreciated About 2013

Gratefulyo

The year 2013 bids us adieu. As exciting as it is to see this year end, it’s also inspiring to see what 2014 will bring. After finishing my New Year’s resolutions, I opened the Word document of my 2013 ones.

Let’s be real. I did not review resolutions consistently all year. Or monthly. Or weekly. I went for what I knew. I gave my best efforts. I worked hard. Grace covered me.

In no particular order, here are 13 of the many things I’m appreciative of about this year:

•My friends are a kaleidoscope of compassion and companionship. Everyone does not live, look or believe similarly. But, they all provide something necessary and beautiful to my life. I pray that I do the same.

•I performed a poem in class. I hadn’t performed (a.k.a. “spit”) since 2011, the year I graduated from college. Glad to know that case law, legalese and such didn’t rob the kid of her flows.

•I’m freelance writing. It’s unpredictable. Yet, I am grateful for every chance to see an idea to fruition and be compensated for it. I studied communications/journalism in undergrad; however, some people have a disposable mindset on content curators. They think blah-blah-everyone’s-a-journalist-or-writer-nowadays. So, when editors honor the value that specialization brings to publications, everybody wins.

•Which reminds me of how I started 2013. Finding out that the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education picked up one of my columns for HBCU Digest.

• The Duval County School Board voted unanimously to change the name of Nathan B. Forrest high school. People in Jacksonville, Fla. decided not to keep a slave-trader and KKK Grand Wizard’s legacy alive via the name of a training ground for developing minds. My hometown has lots of remaining work in terms of inclusivity and progress, but this is a start.

•My high school teachers welcomed my visit and let me speak to their classes. The students seemed intrigued by my message. It was wonderful.

•A professor I have a career crush on thanked me for my contributions to the learning environment. ‘Twas when I learned of an academic high. Acadorphins? Endorphidemia? Ok. No more jokes? Next bullet point.

•School is better. Things click more. Interdisciplinary advocacy, here I come.

•People have patiently helped me when I’ve been in tight spots. Real-time reminders that no one is an island unto him or herself.

•Black and brown girls are shining. While celebrities, beauty queens and successful women can be triggers for some, they fuel me to become self-actualized. Everyone doesn’t have to know my name. I just want to answer my calling.

Anyway, Rihanna constantly does her thing. Erykah Badu models for Givenchy. Beyonce’s album. Miss America. Miss France. The world is abundant. There’s enough light for everybody to catch some rays.

•My family is a blessing and safe haven from chaos.

•I’m halfway through law school.

•And finally, you’re reading this. Thank you.

Safety, love, light and laughter to y’all. Feel free to share some of your gratitude list. Bring on ’14!

My 1st Year of Law School Was Just Like Being in a Moshpit

It started first semester. You were my, my boos. Please note: This picture does not include additional books & sources that I read/took notes from etc.
It started first semester. You were my, my boos. Please note: This picture does not include additional books & sources that I read/took notes from as a 1L.

Moshpits aren’t my thing.

On a holiday break from college, my friends and I attended a rock show. We didn’t know much about the bands. Tickets were affordable. We were bored. So it goes.

Bury Your Dead (BYD). A normal person unfamiliar with the night’s lineup would have made contextual leaps based on the band’s name. Sometimes Imani finds other nexuses.

I rocked jeans, lime green flip-flops and understated makeup. In we walked. Multiple stage dives greeted us. My stomach flopped.

One of my professors says lawyering is about semantics. Trust, Imani. Not recklessness. Sometimes people stage dive, and nobody falls. Aight.

Law school. In I walked. Learn your environment, Imani. Socratic Method. Getting called on.

“Ms. Jackson,” did I care to elaborate on (seemingly) esoteric points of the law as evidenced by the case it took me two hours, a Google history lesson and five dictionary trips to read?

Are we rocking with the majority opinion or does the dissent warrant consideration? As a coffee shop hopping, love bug leftie, I usually root for the underdog. But, is that this professor’s thing?

I’d try.

Success was perfect. Liberating. When I didn’t know the answer… Stage dive. Would I catch myself? Toiling. Reading. Noting. Study groups. Panic attacks. Dreams about class/assignments/justices/dicta/policy/issues. Can sleep please be my happy space, God? Thanks, Mgt.

Competition. The curve. Meh. Part of why I transitioned from performance theatre to creative writing in my arts high school was a desire to dictate my lane without it being relative to what everybody else had going on. Law school sees it differently.

Fists. Ideas. Someone repeats what was just said as if an epiphany god made it rain. People light up. Are some ideas more palatable from certain people? What did I sign up for?

At the BYD show, I didn’t realize I was in a moshpit or that they spontaneously form. Then a cluster of raging, sweaty people surrounded me. Someone punched me, and several ran into me. My flip-flop was swallowed by a crowd. My face hit the wall.

Ready to (try to) fight, the crowd was gone. I’ve actually never been in a fight. A new moshpit formed. Whoever hit me was in that mass of people pummeling each other. Masochism.

Sometimes you gotta move on. Appellate brief. Oral arguments. Midterms. Finals week. Walk by faith and not by sight. And sometimes sight reminds you why you’re there.

A man who lives under a bridge a block from campus spread his blanket beside a shopping cart one evening. I was leaving the library. It was freezing. Blasting the radio and heat in my Jetta, while envisioning a pre-wine to-do list, the man’s blanket broke me. I’m going home to an apartment in a gated community. He’s settling in beside rocks. Sobbing, I turned onto the highway. God, I’ll do this. You let me be here. I’ll do it.

This experience hasn’t been all or even mostly bad. I went first for oral argument. It went well. My partner is a genius. We signed our lives over for the pretend client with dedication until our brief’s submission night and argument morning.

Three attorneys, who I had never met, grilled me for 10 mind-blowing minutes while I defended the rights of a pretend man that pre-law school Imani would have written off as a creeper. A meek legal voice left my lips. With a crescendo-esque cadence, theories flew  and before I knew it, OMG adrenaline. Can I go again? Please? What about these other cases, Your Honors?

Were my client’s rights being infringed upon? Were tenuous connections used to inappropriately authorize invasions against a man deemed a creeper, whose  non-traditional interests shouldn’t be at issue?

Then the February bar takers passed with an almost 83% rate, besting competitive state schools. Strike, Rattlers. There’s always illumination in a tunnel.

Ultimately, law school relaxed me. So much is piled on my classmates and me that if we freak out about each thing, everyone will drop dead. Since I put too much time, money and effort into the education thing to go out like that, I learned to breathe. Sometimes.

That is not to say that I regurgitate statutes or 100% know the demographics I will serve. I won’t pretend that law is demystified. It takes three years to graduate. I have one under my belt. It takes bar passage to be licensed.

But, I’m learning a lot. I read/write/analogize more efficiently. I respect expertise. I notice things I didn’t before. When I renewed my lease, all that crazy jargon formed clearer ideas about what my landlord expects from tenants.

Then there’s the fact that I got my ass kicked a lot. I sent manic texts to a few trusted people, all in the legal field. I cried in a bathroom, on the highway and in my pillow. But, all the lawyers and judges I’ve met said that the worst is behind me.

It helped to cling to words. I’m so grateful to use my journalism degree as a writer while navigating this space. My editors are tremendously understanding. P.S. if you’re reading this and we’re social media buds, read me to feed me. I post links often.

In all seriousness, questions remain. I lost some things. Patience for folly. Unneeded weight stressing about stress.

A sexy marketing/journalism job offer in a big city came during first semester. I could make big girl money! Have my beaming brown face plastered on press releases! Diversity!

A mentor-turned-friend once said that my content is more relevant than my countenance. I thought he was just trying to make me feel better because modeling agents said I was “commercial.” Now I get it. I want to absorb all the life, knowledge, love and wisdom I can to make anything I curate worth the recipient’s time.

Romance. Someone I dated began waxing poetic about everything. He appointed himself as my biblical liaison and counselor. Um. What?  Maybe I missed my blessing. *Flashes back to kind collegiate men.* Their family members they had me meet. Dinner dates. Ideas we volleyed. Full stop. Everything happens for a reason.

I accept my role in my journeys. I have complexes. I love to be confided in. I hate being vulnerable. My family is profoundly loving and periodically stressful because they are truly standouts. I just want to carry our name well.

This post is not a rager or rhythm & cry-baby. It’s a victory song. I didn’t need that green flip-flop, although I had hobble-swag back to the car. I’m currently good on some normative success markers. These unorthodox dots will connect.

Adios, 1L year. You rocked and rolled. The homies and I will see another show.

Note: I didn’t actually say that creeper bit in my argument. That was subtext.

Also note: I wrote this forever post ago and wanted to wait until my grades posted and mental arbitrary hurdles were hopped. Here’s to 2L year filling my soul with gooey goodness.

Letter to a Knucklehead

Image

Hey girl,

You think you know, but you have no idea. Your world will be rocked. Colors will transform. Feelings will transcend. They will evaporate. Trickle.

You will read. You will write. You will want to assimilate. You will want to rage. You will step ahead.

You will connect with brilliant people. Always appreciate them, but don’t lose yourself in them.

You will be right. You will be wrong. You will be anxious. You will be strong. You will outgrow your perceptions of yourself and people too bound to moments passed.

You will want to draw parallels between yourself and others, but they’re fruitless comparisons. A path walked a million times is only yours once your footsteps meet it. And as hard as it was for your cousin to teach you the one-two-step, you should know that other people’s strides are none of your business.

Speaking of walking, walk tall. Wear heels. And colors. And conversation piece accessories. And blue, shimmery eye shadow with rouge. And then only Chapstick for days, if you feel like it.

Walk with your shoulders back. Keep a grin on your face. Not the perfected smile of an adolescent who complied with the orthodontist’s requests. Do the real one.

The one where your top lip disappears and shows the pinkish purple gums you freaked out about. The one with your eyes all squinted and cheeks reaching for the sun’s rays.

Be eloquent. Be ratchet. Be rowdy. Be patient. Be effortlessly you because it is not about names. It is about truth. So do your thing. And know that that thing changes. And that’s ok.

Boys are weird. But, they always have been, so illuminate yourself because when you stop trippin’ they start falling.

Be good to your siblings. They’ll be your soldiers. Appreciate your parents. They made unfathomable sacrifices for you.

Embrace your southern roots and charm. Don’t worry if regionalism affects people’s perceptions of who belongs at the table—because you stay eating, regardless.

Flip phrases til your eyes glaze and conjure connections you believe are amazing. And then top that.

Oh yeah. You will see your social media comments from yesteryear and ridiculous Grinch-like photos. Laugh and delete. And then engage teenagers with patience. Because you were a glittery snow globe with hydraulics not too long ago.

Be grateful. Be great. Keep writing. Expand this letter.

Ciao.

Embrace summertime, not pervasive personal questions

As the sun beams, wind blows, tan lines surface and memories accumulate, remember caution, especially when addressing recent graduates and upwardly mobile peeps.

Some stuff is not your business. This is a mighty revelation for some because nosy people feel entitled to everyone’s business. Because other people’s business underscores universal issues, right?

Your finances, proclivities and politics belong to all. It’s social commentary, not nosiness, right?

Child boo.

Add prevailing notions of a woeful romantic climate for women (especially of color), abysmal job market for all, and the prevalence of Facebook notifications, that yes, even they are engaged now, and the stage is set for pervasive post-grad personal questions.

I graduated in December, but recurring interrogatives often confront me. Spring graduates, prepare. You will develop nosiness spidey-senses.

You know the type. They occur as visions, when one knows that an individual who may not have taken as keen an interest in your professional and academic pursuits, is about to hit a recent graduate with the flex.

Who cares about community service? Let’s discuss carnality. Internships? So, what’s your boyfriend’s name?

It’s the pressure that causes women to hide their relationship statuses on Facebook, hashtag #him on Twitter or take to blogsites of anonymity to express the desires of their hearts without rampant judgment and assumptions.

Breezily dropping questions in speech does not change the fact that some questions are not necessary.

Too many people are team Mind Everyone Else’s Business (MEEB). And what many MEEBs fail to realize is that technological advances and instant gratification do not trump manners.

We live in an era of hyper-connectivity with key words and paparazzi creating facades of access when most people do not owe us anything.

If a celebrity, or heck, even friend of a friend, decides to put something out in the public domain, there is a strong correlation between its existence in that space and the likelihood of people commenting on and noticing it.

Fair enough.

But, even when people make something known, a notion prevails that MEEBs can ask whatever, whenever in whichever capacity the almighty collective schnoz deems appropriate.

No.

There are real opportunities to help and frequently in less invasive ways. We must remember time and place. As we embrace summer we must acknowledge that this is a transition period for scores of people, especially young women.

And transition points are tough. They are marked by reflection, trial, triumph and reassessment. All of that is not breaking news nor should it be.

Transitions do not have to occur under a microscope by obsessive observers who ought to channel their investigative gifts into self-actualization more than dirt digging.

Obviously I’m not addressing everyone. Some people have relationships of trust, love and expertise, which make their interactions meaningful opportunities to learn and grow. Every inquisitive soul is not a MEEB.

But, sometimes sexism is a little too blatant as some situations expose how little unfortunate minds think of women on their own, independent of their romantic relationships or decision to express certain personal choices on a plethora of platforms.

As recent graduates collect photos, funds and memories, many begin planning and working toward the next phase of their lives. Support them. Sponsor something. Connect them with viable professionals. Love them. Help if you can.

But, a bargain for exchange should not be access to the whos, whats, and whens of their bedrooms, date nights and black books, especially if you’re not dating, pursuing or remotely close to them.

As the temperatures rise, don’t catch MEEBer fever.

Virginity, public figures and women’s worth

Who doesn’t love an endearing Olympian, one with a story of overcome obstacles and inevitable success? Add to the mix a self-deprecating, green-eyed hottie with a six-pack, cascading chestnut hair and refreshing sexual candor.

The media loves Lolo Jones. And with her work ethic, talent, good looks and smarts, this is rightfully so.

But for some journalists and bloggers, her personal decision to abstain from sex eclipses all the other things that make her rad, namely athletic prowess and openness about a range of topics.

Jones was the leader in the gold medal final of women’s hurdles in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, but she hit a hurdle and finished seventh in the race.

That unforeseen occurrence will likely serve as motivation as she works toward the Olympics in London.

The track and field runner’s likability stems not only from people cheering her on in hopes of a UK win, but also because of her willingness to share different aspects of her life.

She acknowledged childhood trials and said that she could have been a “professional shoplifter”, not because she wanted the latest duds and coordinating accessories, but because she wanted to help feed her family.

That candidness spilled over into her personal life as she took to Twitter about her life as a virgin. She has said that the decision was difficult and, essentially, that it complicates and/or obstructs her dating life.

Jones decided that she would not have sex until marriage and said that she wants the experience to be a gift for her husband.

The choice is commendable, yet universal fixation with her decision to wait can underscore a climate of crotch-watching judgment of women who do not, have not, might not, or were robbed of their opportunity.

The conversation is appropriate in this instance because Jones opened up the lines of dialogue, but there is a fine line between celebrating people who live up to normative goals and making things awkward and judgmental for those who differ.

This includes everything from household composition to economic expectation and worship habits.

Family and relationship dynamics are disproportionately attributed to women, their sexualities and their inherently linked worthiness. Oftentimes women carry babies to term and burdens of patriarchy and sexism for life.

Even so, we know about Jones’ virginity in the same culture that also publicized Tim Tebow’s. One time for journalistic balance.

Be clear: It is not about taking anything from Tebow or Jones for allowing their convictions to mitigate against their carnality. It takes strength and comfort in one’s individuality to do so.

But, it is also cool when people who descend from substance abusers avoid vices, when dropouts birth college graduates, when abuse victims peace out, and when people deviate from a predetermined route that could be easier to trek. Defying negative statistics is made of win.

Yes, there is a case for rarity.

Legitimate virginity (not newfangled this-not-that or s/he-was-actually-a-rough-draft stuff) is an increasingly abandoned choice in a society of notable sexual risk and/or reward—teen pregnancy, general pregnancy, STDs, connections, recreation, enjoyment.

Jones should be championed for being different and because of her capacity to become a  model of perseverance and hard work. (She worked at Home Depot and as a hostess while studying at LSU.)

Critical thinkers have to make sure that celebrating one does not slight the other. Honest questions should be asked.

Would people take as keen an interest in her sexuality if she did not fit beauty ideals? What if she were of mixed gender, not race? How high will the pedestal created for her other aspects of life be now? Will people remember that her life is hers, regardless of her ascension to public figure status?

People are complex. Societies are complex. With diversity and enough intelligence to appreciate variety, we should celebrate respect, honesty, autonomy and selectivity in healthful sexual practices.

We should be careful not to allow women’s bodies, and preconceived notions about how they look and how they’re used, to trump conversations of a more universal and inclusive nature, aka stuff that is actually other people’s business.

We should unpack biases whenever they involve others’ liberties to be whom and how they are—without harming others.

Regardless of notches on one’s belt or the absence thereof, in matters as sacred as one’s body, people are not entitled to more than they are offered.

Sexuality, as with many aspects of humanity, does not exist only in extremes with alienated virgin on one end and walking grab bag on the other.

Oh, boy. She chooses joy. ;-)

Full disclosure: In between my usual  fashion, national, global and marginalized community reads, I am also into self-help, Law of Attraction, Handel Method style goodies, and the occasional uplifting Bible verse.

With that being said, it is always something. A friend, a foe, a romantic interest, a bill, a familial issue, a misunderstanding.

There is always a reason to choose chaotic interpretations of life. There will always be something, and that fact is neither a negation nor an excuse.

Sometimes it is an opportunity to take more time for and with oneself. Other times it’s a wakeup call. Sometimes it seems like a quintessential sucky situation that only makes sense a few life markers later. Even with our troubles we can choose joy.

The alternative: philosophical plate tectonics. Mad shifty, yo.

Figure out what works for you. For some, conceptualizing the temporary experience of life in terms of a larger, collective body is helpful. Feeling kept by a power greater than our understanding provides solace for many. Others believe that such is scientifically unproven hogwash.

And that’s fine. Everyone should not believe in God, although doing so suits me. Humanity is not helped by advocates of monolithic understanding, worship and/or existence. Free will keeps our kind spicy.

I’m pretty proud that a series of recent occurrences reminded me that I control my happiness, destiny and decisions more than any other force, voice or noise.

People throw shade. Life reroutes ships. We question the waters. Still we sail.

Taking offense to ideological differences is not helpful because people bring their frame of reference, which includes experiential knowledge, privilege, biases, successes and shortcomings to everything that they encounter. It is far less about us and more about them.

Owning other people’s issues is inappropriate. And applying one’s own logic to a dissimilar individual rarely begets peace or understanding.

Baby steps. Sometimes backwards. Sometimes away from the chaos. Sometimes to the mirror. Sometimes three hops this time. Reverse!

Life will not always be  quality conversation, eel and avocado rolls, good wine, room for dessert and tan lines (or your version of happiness), but if we actively seek, appreciate and revel in joy, perhaps, it won’t seem so evasive.

It is an exciting time. Do things loom or bloom? Your choice.