Close to Loosing my Freedom

The year of 1996 I returned to California, excited for a fresh start. Almost immediately after moving into a beautiful new apartment in a quiet neighborhood, I began working. There were several relatives currently residing in the complex. One of which was my brother. Due to my qualifications, it wasn’t long before being offered an opportunity for advancement. Which also meant longer hours. My daughter was in second grade and I was carrying my third chid. For the most part, she’d been a latch-key kid. My job was close so she could come see me at any time and in case of an emergency my brother along with other relatives were close by. Soon, the majority of the complex, including management (a previous co-worker of mine), maintenance as well as surrounding neighbors became like family. We’d barbeque together, watch each other’s children in the pool, laugh and celebrate holidays. Life was great during this time. I was happy. I’m still friends with many of those folks now. It never fails that whenever we talk, the topic comes up regarding that dreadful day that I came close to loosing my freedom, yet again.

Once I began earning more money, I eventually upgraded to a larger apartment on the opposite side of the complex. We’d need the extra space with the baby on his way. Before that time though, Rebecca had lived about twenty feet away. She too was a single mother of a daughter the same age as my own. We didn’t see each other much or talk often, mainly due to my work schedule. She was a stay at home mom. Ocassionally though her daughter would come over to play. The girls would bake cookies and have slumber parties. Rebecca was a nice enough person, however a bit odd. My only issue was that I didn’t agree with the demeaning manner and angry tone in which she spoke to her daughter. Such constant negativity I suspect was the reason for her daughter’s constant tantrums and crying over every small issue. Therefore, also being the reason I’d invite her to hang out when I wasn’t working, in hopes of providing an oppertunity to experience a positive, joyful enviornment.

One day after returning home from work, my daughter and other neighbors (who by now were well aware of my temper when it comes to my children) were hesitant in explaining to me how Rebecca had yanked my daughter by her shirt collar earlier in the day, cussing at her and calling her out of her name. Instantly, I became infuriated yet somehow managed to stay calm, at least for the moment. I went over the next morning to ask Rebecca to please come over for coffee so we could discuss what happened. My thought was perhaps she may be struggling with something or simply overwhelmed as a single mother. She didn’t socialize much with everyone else. I rarely saw anyone coming to visit. It was a great time in my life and as I’d reflect on previous occasions where I wished I’d handled the situation better, I tried my best to be rational by offering my support. To my surprise, she accepted the invitation. I didn’t want to resort to the inner me. For once, I was trying a different approach. I began the conversation by asking if she was ok or if she needed anything before informing her that I’d heard about the incident with my daughter. She remained calm which was surprising since I wasn’t sure what to expect. I explained to her that if there’s ever a future issue involving my child, to please come to me. I assured her that if necessary, she’d be punished in a way that I saw fit. However, I would not allow her to put her hands on my child in any form nor talk to her in the way she does with her own child. I further explained that although I don’t agree with her parenting skills, it’s not my place to judge. Tears began to race down my cheeks as I begged her while also warning her of the consequences. Since the day back in high school when I decided I’d no longer be anyone’s victim, practicing restraint has always been a huge challenge for me, especially while still battling such intense instances of fear. From the look in Rebecca’s eyes, I was confident she received the message loud and clear.

Almost two weeks later, it was obvious she hadn’t. Apparently the girls had another altercation where they’d been bickering over “Monster Eye Straws’ sold at taco bell. Rebecca’s daughter saw my daughter drinking from one and swore it was hers. What’s ironic is I’d always take on seasonal or part-time work right before the holidays so that Christmas wouldn’t be such a strain. This time, that job happened to be at taco bell. That being said, my daughter already had the complete set of the damn straws before they started being sold. When my daughter explained to me how she’d been yanked around like a lifeless puppy by Rebecca grabbing hold of her coat and screaming at her, I snapped. Quickly making me way to Rebecca’s apartment, I nearly broke my toe in an attempt at kicking in her door. My daughter ran to find my brother or anyone who could stop whatever was about to transpire(My baby girl knew me better than I knew myself).

I was unsuccessful at gaining entry to her apartment. Now even more enraged, I found myself pacing by the entry-way when I saw Rebecca approaching from the otherside of the steel gate that seperated us. My daughter and others warned her not to open the gate, but when she did, I instantly grabbed hold of her hair throwing her to the ground with my hands finding their way around her neck as I began choking her. I don’t recall how long this went on. At some point I must’ve blacked out. The voices were muffled, all except my daughter who kept screaming “momma stop, she’s turning colors!” I finally snapped out of it, looking up at my baby girl with confusion, then back down at rebecca realizing she was no longer breathing. Thankfully due to my training in the medical field, I was able to perform CPR. Once she regained consciousness , I sat holding her expecting the police to arrive any second, but they never did. back then I was clueless to the “hood” or what’s known as the rules of the “streets”, which were to NEVER involve the police.

While that event was tragic in itself, it also effected me as well as my daughter. I was angry for allowing myself to once again become so enraged. I had warned Rebecca because I had learned years before when I was holding my daughter as an infant shielding her while being jumped by five guys, that I would do whatever was necessary to protect her. I don’t ever “want” to hurt anyone, but after all I’ve endured, I wasn’t going to let anyone hurt me ever again and especially not my children. It took some years for me to learn how not to respond with violence. One main reason leading to that choice is after years of watching “mom” in an angry rage, my children came to a point where they feared it would eventually cost me my freedom or worse so they stopped telling me when they had a problem. I didn’t want them to ever be afraid to share anything with me, so I worked hard at changing by fighting my fears of the “what if’s” and I’m thankful for yet another lesson from my children and how they’ve helped to save my life. I had an aunt who would always say “Tammy, you can’t keep running up in people houses to beat they ass.” For years I didn’t understand. My mindset was, if that’s where they’re at, I’m ’bout to go get ’em. I was ignorant to the legal aspect of my actions, nor realizing the elders were speaking from experience.

Message: This was not at all a proud moment, nor the person I want to be. I shared this because I still cry and dream about that day and how It could’ve changed not only me and my kids’ lives, but also Rebecca’s daughter. I’ve made many mistakes, but I continue to learn from them and not repeat them. I am proud of my growth and even at my age, I’m still, (as Michelle Obama says) Becoming!

My Back Against the Wall

My daughter, my cherub (top right w/ the huge smile)

My first explicated lesson on faith came twenty-seven years ago from my then four year old daughter. Although I grew up attending various churches, the concept of spirituality was never explained in ways I was able to comprehend. It sounds silly now, but as a child I thought only blacks could be baptist and only whites could be christian. As for Jehovah’s witnesses and the Kindom Hall, that was simply a mystery. Eventhough at that particular point in time I’d never taken my daughter to church, the look in her eyes along with the passionate tone of her voice sparked my curiosity which led me to focus in and listen. She told me that God has boxes in the sky with everyone’s name on them and in those boxes held evrything we “need” (not want) throughout our lives. All we had to do is talk to Him, letting him know what we “need” by praying. She then showed me how to pray. Needless to say, the next day we were blessed with food, a refrigerator and stove for our new home. (This experience with her was the motivation behind The Blind Beautiful Faith of a Child one of my short stories featured in the publication above).

Still uncertain of what transpired, that intimate moment with my child has always stayed with me. I learned of course that God doesn’t exactly answer our prayers in the way we may hope or invision. Nor at the moment we want him to as opposed to within His own time. As I watched my daughter grow into her teen years and now a woman, I’ve always admired the nature in which she would handle certain situations. Perhaps a schoolmate who wronged her, yet ultimately she’d reign supreme. Once there was an accident where the car she was in had literally been folded in half and she survived without injury. Whenever I’d get angry attempting to seek revenge on whoever would try to harm her, she’d say to me “it’s not necessary momma, my faith is strong and He’s always with me”. I would gaze back at her in confusion. Not that I ever denied the concept of faith, I simply didn’t understand. Over the years of observing how things seemingly always worked in her favor, I finally became a believer when I’d reached a point when I felt I had no other options. Having no true friends or family for support along with health issues amongst other unfortunate events, I felt like giving up. That however was definately NOT an option! The relationship between my children and I had become strained. With my back against the wall, all I had left was faith, for the sake of us all.

A short while after receiving a felony conviction, followed by an onset of sudden seizures without explination, I also found myself without a home of my own for the next four years. Bouncing from couch to floors in the homes of various individuals who were more so my children’s friends, I began to notice the strain on them. They were worried about my health, wanting to please me while at the same time trying to keep the peace within their friendships. I was afraid of venturing off on my own, but realized I had to distance myself in an effort to no longer be a burdon to them. Unsure of what was to come or how I’d survive, my only choice was to walk in faith. I’ve never been one to ask for help when it comes to personal matters. So, I decided to try again at utilizing resources available to me except this time I wasn’t taking “no” for an answer.

Progress was slow in the coming months, yet it was still progress which led me to realize my prayers are actually being answered. I’d pound the pavement daily applying for jobs and searching for permanent housing. In all my years, as I recall, I was offered most positions I applied for. The difference this time was they’d still hire me or want to, but the felony prevented that aside from the fact of being upfront regarding the circumstances around it. I couldn’t afford to become discouraged although it seemed as if my goal was impossable to reach. I kept telling myself, He is here, He is with me. I’m putting in all the work, it will pay off soon. I spent my evenings talking to God and praying. I remembered when a professor told me “Tammy, you are a creator”. I didn’t understand until he went on to explain how he had witnessed me creating opportunities and ways of accomplishing my mission. He told me that I have the ability to make things happen.

While staying in a boarding home paid for by my mental health provider, I joined a poetry play. That experience allowed me to connect and network with new people as well as reconnect with some of those already familiar with my skill set and integrity from my previous work in the community. Suddenly I was earning an income by doing readings of my work which ultimately opened doors for speaking engagements for a number of events. I was also able to complete my training with NAMI allowing me to advocate and speak about mental health. I was approved for a housing voucher, yet waiting for an apartment to become available. Then COVID hit. I could see that God was with me, still I couldn’t help but worry. Would this pandemic stop me from moving into a home? How will I furnish it, pay my portion of the rent and other expenses?

Foolishly, I would pray for a bag of money. When I’d be out, I was constantly looking in bushes thinking a bank robber had to stash his loot. Of course I knew I’d never find that bag of money and that was ok because my faith had grown strong. I knew that at the right moment I’d have everything I need. That’s when I realized, I had nothing to worry about. He has always been with me. Reflecting back to my past, I’d survived tougher situations. With the felony alone I was threatened with a seven year sentence for protecting my children and grandson when a neighbor tried to bardge his way into our home. My mistake, stabbing him outside the door instead of in the doorway. Watching the tears of my daughter in the courtroom when the judge annouced a guilty verdict broke my heart. God being on my side, I not only ended up being on ankle monitor for fourty-nine days, but they let me off early. I was even able to pay off the bailbondsman and other fees. Having faith feels great! While I’m not one to force my beliefs on others nor do I even like to talk about religion, I simply want people to experience what I have regarding my relationship with God. The assurance of knowing a higher power is with me. I wake up daily looking out the window ( of my own home) expressing my grattitude. Instead of being angry or seeking revenge like before, I pray for those who’ve wronged me, figuring they are suffering and havn’t learned yet. I know I went through these hardships because it was His way of showing me my purpose in life. By the way, in case you were wondering, it wasn’t in a bag, and however unfortunate as to how it came, the lump sum did in fact come.

A note: As a fromer K-3 science and art instructor I’d like to stress the importance of listening to children. It is important they know that their VOICE’S matter too. It is through my children that God Spoke to me. I believe because for so long I’d lived in fear and had been traumatized, that was his way of reaching me. I’d missed out on so much of what the world has to offer, being afraid and not actually living. Now it’s as though I’m finally able to breath and enjoy my life. They have saved me over and over again, I am thankful for a new beginning!

“The Crooked Room”

Being in a position of leadership for many companies where I was employed, led me to find this book very interesting. Although I was the “boss”, there seemed to always be some degree of uncomfortability and I didn’t understand why. Later, realizing I’d been fighting for an upright position in not only the work place, but in society as a whole. Hypothethically speaking, have you ever imagined being somewhere upside down? Perhaps on a roller coaster suspended in mid-air. Various aspects of the times we’re living in are political in some form or another. Institutions such as the CDCR that hold our father’s, brother’s and son’s captive, the NFL as well as “regognition” itself , in my opinion are all forms of politics. Standing up straight in the “crooked room” known as America can be a challenge. “When confronted with race and gender stereotypes, black women are standing in a crooked room, and have to figure out which way is up”; often resulting in a personal form of pain.

Perry’s concept of the “crooked room” states: “bombarded with warped images of their humanity, some black woman tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion”. One factor as a result of this pain, is in fact recognition. It is vital because everyone wants to be acknowledged and feel as though they belong. The novel, turned movie Women of Brewster’s Place is about the journey’s of a few African American woman who found themselves eventually ending up living in a rundown apartment complex while struggling in the ghetto. Each of the women come fron different backgrounds. There is the lesbian couple who tried to hide their relationship for fear of the neighbors not accepting them and their lifestyle. Then there’s the single mom with too many kids to count, letting them run wild while sitting back collecting welfare. Finally, there’s the bitter elderly woman who’s always in everyone else’s business, stirring up gossip because she is stewing in her own misery. Eventually these woman came to realize that they all share a common bond. They are all fighting in some way, to stand in an upright position. The system has violated recognition for black woman in society. We struggle to be equals and to affirm our own identities; although we live under a system that doesn’t allow nor support us to do so. Citizenship goes hand-in-hand with recognition and as citizens in the land of equality, we should not have to be concerned with what other’s may think of us or how we’re viewed when entering the room, especially before having an opportunity to speak. Pre-judgement comes with the territory of the crooked room as well as the limitations that substantiallly hinder black women.

Consequently, due to recognition being so difficult to obtain we as black women tend to seek privacy with the exception of reality television programs like “Basketball Wives” or “Atlanta Housewives”. Socially, we tend to not be comfortable at times even with other African Americans. Sadly, one reason for this is that we our judged even by our own kind, often finding ourselves in situations where we adjust our attitudes and change the tone in our voices as well as our outward behaviors just to fit in. As black women we are forced to confront race as well as fight for political independence while our resilience allows us to manage an upright position eventhough the effects can take a toll on the psyche. The impact, for example, leads to low self-esteem which is an emotional struggle as we attempt to gain respect in the form of emulating other races by straightening our hair or switching up the way we articulate words. Afraid of staying true to who we are for fear of non-acceptance. Some of us remain hidden like a turtle in it’s shell, while others may give in to the hype. There are those who go as far as miscegenation, some for love certainly, but for other’s it’s safe to assume the reason to be for an upgrade in social status.

Within the “crooked room” are also crooked images from the stereotypes we’re often influenced by. To stand upright in the crooked room requires us to use our brains and not feed into the labels of being over sexed or that sex is our main interest. As if it is not enough, we must deal with the misogynist ways we’re portrayed through hip hop and other avenues. It’s not our fault that we are blessed with natural curves, hefty bosom’s and voluptuios backsides. Some sista’s give in to the stereotypes; nevertheless, I imagine they have their reasons. However, we must consider another important factor is the emotional damage it can cause for young girls as they grow up. There are some little black girls, who as they begin to fill into their bodies, don’t know that it’s ok and that the changes are not only normal, but necessary. Instead they have to be concerned with being teased for developing more rapidly than other girls, resulting in issues with self esteem. The other side to this is because we are stereotyped and depicted in a particular way for our curves, there are women of other races who desire to be like us. One can purchase buttocks pads from the “as seen on T.V.” commercials to give a voluptuious illusion. Some take injections for the illusion of a fuller lip, and then there are the breast implants. Yet they are not struggling with the same personal pain as we are nor are the stereotypes regarding other races dipicted in such a negative way as they have been for African American women.

While women of various backgrounds may have a different or temporary experience of the “crooked room” ; for instance Martha Stewart during her time of legal troubles and incarceration is a great example, but recognition more than likely did not play a role in this particular scenario. Ultimately, some women will learn to align themselves within the crooked room of society; however, unfortunately there are those who will remain at the very least, slightly tilted. As black women of future generations, it is our responsability to uplift and empower one another as well as encourage and motivate other’s to be the best they can be. Resilience along with tenacity are important atributes to aid African American woman in overcomming their struggles which means there is still hope that at some point our youth will will not have to endure the effects of the “crooked room”.

12 Hour Shift

Vector seamless pattern of black and white bras on a violet background.
She makes adjustments
Those that occupy me
May now stand at attention
Playing peek-a-boo
Often saluting on-lookers
Can't find a quality me at Wally World
Nor the swap meets
12 hour shifts
Don't mind the job so much
They depend on me for help
Carrying what feels like tons
Thank God for the cut backs in '96
Yet, I'm still an "F", envy of "A's" and "B's"
When it's all said and done
My shift ends when
I parachute across the room
In a high wind
The landing isn't important
For tomorrow, my shift starts again
Supporting the team

Somewhere in the Middle (Part 2)

Years ago a college professor asked, “do other black women speak to you while walking on the street?” I’d never thought about it before; however, since then I’ve become aware that they actually don’t. Generally one can sense when a person is making eye contact. In my experience, regardless of wheather I’m smiling in an attempt to initiate contact or acknowledge someone to say hello, it is very rare that the greeting is recipitated. The attitudes and charecter of many of my people, from my perspective, continue to be the reasoning for me to question where I truly fit in.

My social network ranges from all backgrounds and social class. It is extremely troubling to witness such a lack in unity amongst the black community. I hear folks constantly talking about “support black business”. Yet when I have, there’s little to no customer service as well as no organization when it comes to events and such. How do you promote a book signing and have no pens, just saying. Then there are those who complain about certain stereotypes placed upon us, yet many continue to prove them to be true. For instance never being on time. As a customer trying to support the black business owner who advertises their business hours, but on more than one occasion has opened more than 30 minutes late (personally, I have a problem with that). We have also been classified as lazy and angry.

Now, while I would never classify an entire group for the actions of some, over the years as I reflect back on experiences with my people, they have not been as gratifying as the instances with those who don’t look like me. For example, recently I sought help with computer technology. I reached out to several african americans initially. Relatives, neighbors, friends as well as professionals, all of which assured me they could or would help (obviously offering compensation because I never expect anything for free). Sadly, over a week went by and after calling and not hearing back fron anyone, I could no longer wait. I reached out to a young white man I knew from school. Not only did he agree to help which was a surprise only due to being aware of his busy schedule over the years, but he also gave me a day and time. When that day came, he called 30 minutes prior to confirm and showed up on time. When the job was finished he barely charged a fraction of what the others quoted and being so thankful, I still paid him double because I may need him in the future.

Being the person I am, I appreciate those little attributes that seemingly don’t matter to most. Being “on time” which is actually being early, standing by my word, taking accountability and overall integrity. Sadly, even when it comes to many of my friends and family there’s no unity. No support for ventures or accomplishments unless they can find ways to benifit for themselves. As a child my mother never showed up for a spelling bee, softball game nor acknowledged any of my accomplishments. That taught me that I couldn’t count on or depend on people. As an adult, some who I believed to be “friends” seemingly had the plantation mindset of “house nigga” versus “field nigga”, allowing envy and selfishness to get in the way of the ultimate goal of freedom. When in actuality neither is better off than the other, but with the wrong attitude, that “friend” assumes you might have it better not stopping to realize that our struggle is the same. I don’t get mad or seek revenge on the those who have wronged me. I refuse to believe those who know me can be so malicious. Instead, I feel bad for them attempting to put myself in their shoes in hopes of understanding so I pray for them. I’m proud of my reflection when passing by a mirror (inside and out) knowing who I am and what I stand for. The world already throws so much at us that’s out of our control, I couldn’t bare to intentionally be the reason for yet another hardship in someones life, especially the ones I care about even if/when they may not care as much for me.

There are very rare occasions where my people have been the ones to encourage me or show support. In school growing up, it was my white teachers who took on those roles. Introducing me to new concepts, showing interest along with praise and reward for doing well. As I became an adult it’s been the white folks that have provided me oppertunities and given me a chance. No white folks ever robbed me at gun point, beat and abused me nor treat me as poorly as my own people have. I can’t help but paint the image as my stepfather who sexually abused me as my experience with whites and my mother who constantly beat me and endlessly vilified me in an attempt to break me down as my experience with blacks. It was her nature to communicate in a scurrilous manner in general. I wonder had it come down to it (which it almost did), as a child who would I have been better off with? A mother’s role is to nurture, love and protect no matter what, that is to be expected. On the other hand, a man who is not my biological father, in my mind has no major obligation to me other than obeying the law at the very least. I grew up thinking, If I can’t trust my parents, how could I trust a stranger? My conclusion is that over the years it is my mother who has caused the most severe trauma. Although I was also violated by my stepfather, he didn’t cause nearly as much long term damage as my mother did. I look for the good in everyone. I am blessed with kidness daily which can be a bit surprising considering the times we live in. I realize there are good and bad people in general. Unfortunately the results due to my personal experiences force me to question who can I actually trust; therefore, often finding myelf alone, somewhere in the middle.

Somewhere in the Middle (Part 1)

As a black woman nearing the age of fifty, I’ve found myself often reflecting on my past and realizing that I’ve never quite fit in-anywhere. Although I was born in the south, I’ve lived in California since I was a year old. As a child I remember our first drive back to Arkansas for the family reunion and Juneteenth celebration. Never had I seen such an abundance of black folks in one place. I was confused by the sight of blacks working in the local stores and gas stations. Everyone seemed friendly, honking their horns and waving. I also couldn’t help but notice that some of the white folks I encountered were distant and not as engaging as they were back in Cali. There was an insidious glare in their eyes that at the time, I didn’t understand.

My mother welcomed everyone into our home. Color was of no concern to her, for she only had two rules as she would say. “Don’t lie to me ’bout nothin’ and don’t steal from me and we’ll be alright.” Although it took a few decades, eventually I learned and began noticing certain behaviors of people that I questioned which slowly began to alter my perspective. I’d reflect back on instances when during school age, I was constantly asked “why do you talk white?” That question always confused me. What did they mean? That was the beginning of basically being isolated by the so-called peers who looked like me.

It makes sense to me that our behaviors are learned from our enviornment. These are my experiences which have ultimately caused me to wonder, if and where do I actually fit in. Because I’ve always felt a disconnect with blacks and unable to relate on certain levels (music for example), and while at the same time my experiences with some whites have showed me that when it comes down to it, regardless of my skills, integrity or professionalism, they most likely will choose their own. Therefore, leaving me to be stuck somewhere in the middle.

First off, being named after the lengendary country singer (a story for later) didn’t help me to score any “cool points” in the black community. Aside from that, my parents had lots of white friends, especially after moving to Sacramento from Oakland when I was eight. I don’t know exactly how conscious they were when it came to black society. My stepdad worked every extra shift available while my mother didn’t have much education nor work experience, yet did the best she could. They never talked to me or taught us much about anything relevant concerning black culture. Our television stayed tuned in to shows like Knight Rider, Dukes of Hazzard or my mother’s favorite’s Dallas and Knotts Landing. Ocassionally, Shaft and George Jefferson would find their way into our living room. We lived in prodominately white middle class neighborhoods which also meant prodominantely white schools. My brother’s and I listened to artists like Duran Duran, Phill Collins, Boy George and so on. I’d never even had a black teacher that I can recall until my junior year of high school while living in Michigan temporarily. I have however, experienced that awkward feeling of being the only black in the office when the media announces the death of Michael Jackson or that Obama has won the election. All eyes on me, waiting for my reaction.

Due to the abuse from both of my parents, I had already become an introvert and have always been socially awkward, even around relatives. Often in my own household of step-siblings, I felt like an outsider which meant I was usually in a corner somewhere, alone simply observing. Not much has changed today although some people would disagree. My work ethics have often resulted in the advancement of a leadership position allowing for a bit more ease. Even in work enviornments socializing was not always easy for me. I was extremely timid. My thought process was to stay focused, be thorough and utilize my time wisely. The only sport I knew was softball, but people only seemed to discuss football or basketball so there were rare opportunities to inject myself into the conversation. I was baically clueless to many issues of the world and simply didn’t have any input to offer. The thing is, for me, there’s a difference between my private life and my life as a professional. The only situations in which they compare is when it comes to running a tight ship so-to-speak and doing my best to obey the rules.

5th Generation Girl

From my mother
To my mother's father
From his mother and father
and their parents, my Great-Greats
Lydia and Derry
During a time when couples stayed married
To Big Mamma
4ft 2, 104lbs, still the strongest woman I've known
Bore 12 to help work the fields
From slavery to pickin' cotton
Boys plowin' da fields, butcherin' hogs
Girls out back wringin' chicken necks for suppa
And milkin' da cows in the pasture

As I stare at their photos on my wall
Of those that i see, came the production of me!
5th Generation Girl
Breaking down barriers, standing tall-
Eighty-six, my grandfather got that name the day
a white man spit on him
"Get on your side of the road, ya damn Nigger!"
From him came Effie who at 19, bore Tammy
Oh, where would I be without my
ancestors who paved the way for me!
Through sweat, pain, tears, tornado's, southern storms

Twelve mouths to feed for at least eighteen years
From segregated schools, protest and hard times
I'll tell you where I wouldn't be....
Because of the doors you've opened
nearly dying and sometimes dying for me!
Without your struggles
I, as a black girl would not have this opportunity
to spread my wings and thrive
Oh glory...God bless your souls!
I thank you and love you dearly!
Because of you 5th generation girl can now and forever fly freely!
My Big Momma Age 100 ( born 1900)

Psychology of the Mask

Unfortunately during the last year, the world has been forced to literally wear a mask as a safety precaution during the pandemic. However when it comes to the history of my ancestors, the concept of wearing a mask meant something much different. Paul Laurence Dunbar is known for being one of the most influential African American literary scholars of his time. His passion for language and music, along with personal life tragedies have been the motivation behind much of his work. With regards to his poem “We Wear the Mask” (revised here by Maya Angelou), the style as well as the content provides a vivid reflection of the hardships people of color endured as well as how they dealt with restrictions that were placed upon them. The basis of the poem is the immense suffering of blacks and the necessity of painting on a happy face as a survival tactic.

Dunbar “challenges the plantation tradition”. These were slave states that heavily focused on the antebellum times, like Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas. Whenever African Americans began to rebel, others became afraid and would resort to using psychological methods of power (such as seperating a slave woman from her children). There is reason to believe that the wearing of the mask is a sign of both physical and mental strength. The reality is that psychic strength is a key factor in what blacks; especially woman, developed years before to survive slavery.

“We wear the mask that grins and lies”, is a statement that can be depicted as: why not give those who are different what they want for the sake of keeping the peace. When examining the word “mask” some may view it in the sense of a horse that is blinded; wandering aimlessly as did slaves while working on the plantations. However; in refference to the spirit of African American’s, it seems more reasonable that the intent leans more towards being in disguise, hiding their true character. Although it is not advertised, people of all backgrounds only reveal about themselves what they choose and have various reason for doing so.

Another line from the poem; “the debt we pay with human guile” can be perceived as insidious cunning, deceit or treachery. An alternative perspective is that to be cunning, does not necessarily mean that one is being deceitful. Cunning intellect can be a skill for survival, staying mindful that the goal of slave owners was to break the psyches of their slaves. The language in Dunbar’s poem reflects the bestial way of how blacks were seperated from the common run of humanity. “A mouth with myriad subtleties”, an unfamiliar usage of the word “mouth” is how it relates to facial expression while speaking. Without sound much can still be implied by expression alone. The statement also clearly implies a large amount such as military or Greek soldiers, but more specifically the scenario is based on the tens of thousands of slaves or race as a whole. This behavoir became a way of life. To not show any sign of emotion was for the sake of culture and love for family, which ultimately for many became a form of Black Fictive Kinship.

“We sing, but oh the clay is vile!” Music throughtout the generations in black culture has been a key element psychologically in lifting our spirits. During the days of slavery they would sing in faith as a way of providing hope. “Clay” refers to a stiff vicious earth found in other deposits near the surface of the ground at various depths below, forming a tenacious paste. In turn, through the singing people of color were aslo determined to firmly stand their ground, mainly in faith because that was all they had to cling to. One can also argue that to atleast some extent this may have had a psychological impact on slave masters as well. Imagine doing everything in your power to break someones spirit and tear them down, yet with all the odds against them, they still refused to loose hope or give up. The relevance of the “mask” concept is not limited solely to African Americans, especially in this day and age. People from around the globe at some point, have or will experience wearing the mask. Some because they choose to and others may feel as if they are forced to do so. Be it with-in our work enviorments, social meeting places like church or common peers such as family for one reason or another, we all are simply trying to survive and that experience in itself varies for everyone.

Goals, Purpose & Passion

Welcome, and thank you for visiting. My hope is that as you join me on my journey, you become inspired, realizing how powerful your VOICE is. Also to learn as well as take away useful information to help motivate and guide you during your personal journey. Ultimately what I plan to accomplish by starting this blog is first gain exposure of my name as an author and poet by establishing my brand, eventually leading to an opportunity for a book contract. Secondly, to raise awareness by sharing personal, intimate stories of life’s obstacles and challenges I’ve overcome. I would also love to become a success by earning income as a blogger.

I remember back in my day the elders were stern about children staying in their place and not necessarily having a say regarding any matters, not even what was for dinner. You simply ate what you were fed! However, for me it was different. I depended on input from my children and now grandchildren, especially living in the era of technology, which I’ve basically been forced to utilize, not only due to the pandemic, but simply to keep up with the pace of the world in accomplishing various tasks. Because of the abuse I endured as a child, it lead me to not be very trusting of others. It is my children who taught me a different perspective when it comes to my faith with socializing in certain scenarios and how I react to disappointment and/or fear. For the greater part of my life until I was about fourty years old, I’d always felt that God was punishing me, not realizing that everyone has similar experiences in life and in fact, I wasn’t alone. It is for that reason and during that time that I finally found my own VOICE. This is also why I’m extremely passionate about this work. Developing epilepsy in 2012 (cause still unknown) then recieving a mental health diagnosis a few years later inspired me to encourage others to share their stories and let them know that they are not alone.

I’ve been able to trace my ancestors back 5 generations. 5thGenerationgirl, one of my published works was a way of honoring my ancestors after learning their history from a time when families (especially from the deep south) stayed quiet keeping their secrets with the idea of it being a means for survival as well as an attempt in sparing their children from stigma and fear. This behavoir reminds me of a famous poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar ” We Wear the Mask” (which we’ll visit more in the near future). It helps to heal when we can open by telling our truths while at the same time not feeling vulnerable. I’m excited about the possibility of creating a bond, no longer feeling alone and at the very least, learning that someone else truly understands.

My background ranges from a short time in the medical field as a medical assistant (urology & family medicine) and phlebtomist. An instructor in art and science, supervisory positions for major companies, small business owner, lumbermill work and even farming. Some of my lows include protective custody as a witness to a murder investigation, putting a child up for adoption, four years of homelessness as a well two felony convictions over a twenty year spand. Although I never realized it during those times, God was and has been with me the entire way. I’ve learned many valuable lessons now looking back. The “light bulb” finally clicked with the lessons my ancestors were trying to teach me. I have no regrets because my experiences, good and bad have led me to discover my purpose in life which is to write, speak and share with hopes of encouraging others to find their way.

NOTE: The concept of “Sankofa” is a term from Ghana, loosly meaning “go back and get it” also the symbolism for the icon next to the logo on my home page. A bird w/ it’s head facing backwards, but feet forward. This concept is in part what’s promoted my growth by going back to my roots, learning from ancestors and history in general and using that information to continue pushing forward in life.