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!

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.

Finding peace, pulling pieces and seeking justice

A lot happened  in the past few days.  My goddaughter was dedicated to God. My baby bro is Dunk Master Flex. I have about five new freckles on my face.

Ok, in all seriousness, my previous post “Putting the BIG in bigotry” garnered more views than anything else on my blog.  It also nearly sent my poor Blackberry into cardiac arrest with all the notifications. I was definitely getting the red light special all through the night. 

The post went viral, especially for an indie blog created a few months ago, with the support of hundreds of people on Facebook and Twitter, through email and search engines. For additional eyes on the thoughts and words that I labor over, I am eternally grateful.

The experience highlighted commonality in people of various backgrounds and with diverse life experiences.

Friends, associates and strangers from the Grambling State University, Louisiana Tech University and northern Louisiana community expressed concerns about the need for sensitivity in our dealings with one another. We didn’t shy away from troubling issues of race, responsibility and equality.

The piece was shared in other regions, too, which solidified that staying up in the middle of the night and hammering out a counter-narrative was worth the following day’s exhaustion and post-response euphoria.

This was a teachable moment.

As such, Louisiana Tech responded with a statement addressing freedom of speech, prior review, and why they ultimately pulled the piece from editor-in-chief Rebecca Spence in the online edition of their publication, The Tech Talk.  http://www.thetechtalk.org/?p=5159

The largest issue is the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death. Recently, voice analysis experts determined that screams heard at the crime scene could not have been from George Zimmerman.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/31/trayvon-martin-shooting-911-call-screams_n_1394224.html

Also, change.org’s petition for justice in Martin’s case is the largest petition in the site’s history.

http://www.change.org/petitions/prosecute-the-killer-of-our-son-17-year-old-trayvon-martin

That’s pretty impressive considering that the site boasts more than 100,000 petitions. All of these events highlight the need for timely engagement from various constituents. The impact of an engaged audience and society cannot be undermined.

Ego Trips, epiphanies and intellectualism with Nikki Giovanni

When public figures present their humanity to crowds it is that much easier to understand why people love them. This could not have been more apparent than when Nikki Giovanni made an appearance in my hometown, Jacksonville, Fla., last night.

It was an honor not only to see her encourage and empower a mostly Black audience at Edward Waters College, but it was also humbling to see that a woman, whose brand withstands the test of time, share triumphs, pain and progress with audiences.

She delivered a constructively critical presentation and performed spoken word.

After signing every autograph requested of her, she graciously engaged the media and talked everything from peace to hairpieces in a  press conference at the college. She told the media that she had nothing else planned that night and would answer every question asked.

She re-emphasized the need for urban youth to have technology, namely computers or iPADS. She shamed anti-immigration legislation.

When asked about natural hair, Giovanni did not espouse self-hatred themes about women who embrace chemical alterations.

In fact, she said she thought it was quite clever when young women had green hairpieces.

“One plays with oneself,” she said. She shared that when overcoming cancer she colored her hair blonde to show her mother that she would be ok. Also, as a woman with tawny skin, her hair color gave what she described as an instant tan.

Giovanni kept it real. She kept it human.

The professorial poet reminded listeners of the need for emotionalism in light of technological advances. She said that she does not ask her students at Virginia Tech year specific questions that could be answered with their gadgets.

Instead, she said that she asks questions like “What role did personal ambition play in the Renaissance?”

Many told her that they had never encountered emotional responses to academic material.

I could go on and on about the myriad perspectives that she shared and causes she championed… However, I hope that you’ll check out my story for HBCU Digest on her visit.

** Sneakpeak**  She and I talked hip-hop and misogyny.

 http://www.hbcudigest.com/34244/