In My Father’s House Is Not About Placing Blame…

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Caption: Our family on the red carpet at the Chicago Premiere of In My Father’s House.

Let me start by saying “thank you” to everyone who has gone to see our film In My Father’s House. While Che and I have always considered ourselves to be “open books,” this documentary opens up our home and our family in a way that we’ve never experienced before. Our hope, is that people will be inspired to examine their own families and most of all to heal, forgive and move forward.

When you’re in the public eye, people tell you to “stay off social media” and to “not read the comments,” but I believe that social media is an incredible platform to share information, connect and inspire. You can imagine my confusion when we came across a tweet that said “Rhymefest ‘slut shames’ his single mother” with a tag to Amber Rose. It continued with “Rhymefest disses his single mother” and more, and more tweets oversimplified both the song “Lost and Found” and the film.

My mother-in-law is one of the strongest women I know, and she was the first person that Che went to, for permission to go on the journey to find his father in the first place. As a single mom, like most single moms, she did the best she could. I can’t tell you how many people have approached us after screenings to share that they were interested in connecting to their fathers, but their mothers forbade them and made them feel guilty for wanting to connect. I myself was raised by a single mother, and my mother taught me the value of hard work, was a beautiful example of resiliency and despite not having a partner to help raise me, she did the best she could.

Some people will post anything to get likes, follows and mentions. Because “content is king,” real journalism is often passed over for the tabloid style, sensationalized garbage that misrepresents and distorts. And don’t even get me started about “slut-shaming!” “Slut-shaming” should not even be in the same sentence as “single-mother,” as it was in the tweet we were mentioned in. Parenting is rough work, and it is not easy when there are two parents, let alone, single parents (either moms or dads). When it comes to parenting though, there are some things that happen that negatively impact our children… and that is a reality! Che mentions in the song, “Never had a father/ so I blamed my momma/ she had bad judgment, and horrible karma/ couldn’t even find a decent man for me to honor/ got my degree from the streets that was my alma mater…”

Che is not represented as the perfect father in our documentary, and he’s not without flaws. Che’s father was not the perfect father, and he’s not without flaws. Che’s mother had some challenges as a mother, and she’s not without flaws… but name one parent, or person that is not without flaws. We have to discuss these things – these choices that are made – that affect our children, so that we can break the cycles that negatively impact our families and our communities. Furthermore, “Lost and Found” is a great example of a piece of art that is therapeutic and cathartic. I wish we could get more honest portrayals of family life in hip hop.

Additionally, the notion that our film is about “blame,” is preposterous. If that is the conclusion that you’ve drawn, I’d ask that you watch the film again. When we’re talking about finding “blame.” it often means we are pointing the finger at someone else, and therein lies the problem. My husband wanted to be a better father, and realized that until he dealt with his internal feelings with his own father, he wouldn’t be able to have a proper relationship with his own children. It was his internal anger, hurt and frustration that forced him to go on the journey to find his father in the first place… at 35 years old. Focusing on “blame” doesn’t allow you to move forward, it forces you to live in the past. Our film is about attempting to get to the root cause – why do we make the decisions that we make, and why do we repeat the pathologies that continue to cause trauma? Our film is about unconditional love… loving our family members despite the challenges and difficulties they face (in the case of my father-in-law alcoholism).

If you have not done so, please check out In My Father’s House, now in select AMC Theaters across the country.

My Family Is Featured In A Documentary… In AMC Theaters Today

I am so excited to share that our film In My Father’s House opens in 20 AMC Theaters nationwide today. In June of 2012, we moved into the family home of my husband’s paternal family. Shortly after our move, my husband began asking questions about his father, as he hadn’t seen him since he was 12 years old. He wanted to know, “was he alive?” and “why did he abandon me?” He had many unanswered questions, so I encouraged him to go find his father just so that he could have closure… When we found my father-in-law Brian, he had been living on the West Side of Chicago, homeless, for over 25 years.

The documentary follows our family for the first year. Finding Brian has profoundly changed us individually and collectively. It is our belief that we won’t have healthy communities until we repair our families. If you see the film, please let me know. We can make things better for ourselves, one relationship, one household and one family at a time.

Here is where the movie is being screened starting today:

In My Fathers House

Here are some photos from the premiere we hosted with 700 of our Chicago-based friends, family and colleagues:

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My husband, Che Smith, on the red carpet. Photo by Juan Anthony Images.
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Our filmmakers Ricki and Annie, with our brothers Common, Judge Mathis, Maurice, and Che & I. Photo by Juan Anthony Images.
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Our filmmakers, with Neli Vazquez-Rowland (from A Safe Haven, the organization that helped my father in law Brian), with Common & my father in law Brian. Photo by Juan Anthony Images.
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Some of my Donda’s House Fam at the screening. I love my #squad! Photo by Juan Anthony Images.
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Common opened up the film. Photo by Juan Anthony Images.
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The Smith Family at the Premiere! Photo by Juan Anthony Images.
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Brian Tillman – my father in law! Photo by Juan Anthony Images.
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Me and my love. Photo by Juan Anthony Images.
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My hubby talking to some of his best friends. Photo by Juan Anthony Images.
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Historic Music Box Theatre, where we hosted our red carpet premiere.
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Judge Mathis gave words of encouragement to everyone in our family. Honored to have his support for the film.
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Q & A after the film. Photo by Juan Anthony Images.

Check out this recap of the Chicago Premiere here, produced by K Shack Vidz, who also did some of the video work in the film.

You can learn more about the film here, including joining the mailing list to receive updates. I hope you enjoy it and thank you so much for reading my blog 😉

Sponsored By The Lord…

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Caption: Me attending Essence Fest in NOLA for the first time earlier this year.

I’m sitting here at O’Hare Airport, waiting to board my flight to New Orleans, LA. This will be my second trip ever to New Orleans.

Last year, my husband and I said that we wanted to spend our anniversary in New Orleans. Our anniversary is February 24th. For whatever reason, it didn’t work out.

Fast forward a few more months, and we realized that not only would we travel to New Orleans during the 4th of July Weekend, but we’d do so on a sponsored trip, because our film was selected to screen at Essence Fest! Had we gone for our anniversary, the trip would have been nice, but we would not have experienced the VIP treatment that we did which included: running into Ava DuVernay at a restaurant, seeing Kevin Hart kick off his What Now? Tour and seeing one of our favorite groups Maze & Frankie Beverly live.

Patience is one of the most important virtues and it is also the one that I honestly struggle with the most. I remember being so sad that our NOLA Anniversary plans didn’t pan out, but the thing about patience is that it is a TEST of our faith. God knows best, and if we trust him, he will show up and show out.

This week, I’m headed back to NOLA on a sponsored trip, to participate in the A Gathering of Leaders Conference, which will have over 400 nonprofit leaders, foundation leaders and activist, all grappling with some of our communities toughest issues: the relationship between community and police, racial equity in the non-profit sector and good old fashion networking.

Whatever you’re waiting for… trust me, if it doesn’t work out, just wait for it… it’s coming!

And The DNA Tests Revealed… Genetics, DNA Testing & Legacy

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Caption: Me sitting on the steps of a Slave Cabin in New Orleans, LA

I am so grateful for the people in my family – like my Aunt Gert, who keep track of our genealogy. In that sense, I have been more fortunate than most African Americans, because we have been able to trace my lineage to my great great great granfather, Syrus Williams, who was born a slave in South Carolina but died a free man in Atkins, Arkansas with 128 acres of land. I wrote briefly about him here.

About a month ago, my husband and I decided that we wanted to do the DNA testing to determine our ethnic makeup. My husband recently reunited with my father-in-law Brian Tillman who he found homeless. That story is documented in a film that will be in AMC theaters October 9th. Click here to watch the trailer.

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The older I get, the more curious I get about the people who came before me. I want to know as much as I can about those individuals. What motivated them? How did they survive such difficult life circumstances? What parts of them are not a part of me?

So we received our Ancestry.com DNA kit, provided a saliva sample (no blood, pricking or anything too intrusive) and sent it via mail to be tested. After 6 weeks, an e-mail popped up in my box “Your DNA results are ready.”

Thankfully we were both home, and we were able to read our results together. We decided to read his genetic makeup first. As we’d guessed, a large part of both of genetic makeup was African.

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The Results: 

Africa 94:

Cameroon/Congo – 34% (This represented 10% of my husband’s DNA)

Ivory Coast/Ghana – 34%

Benin/Togo – 18% (This represented 31% of my husband’s DNA) 

Senegal – 4%

Nigeria – 2% (This represented 21% of my husband’s DNA)

Mali – 1%

Africa South-Central Hunter – Gatherers – 1%

America – Less Than 1% (could include North & South America)

Asia – Less Than 1% (Asia East which includes (Russia, China, North Korea, South Korea, Mongolia, Myanmar (Burma), Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Palau)

Europe – 4%

Europe West – 1% (

Primarily located in: Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein

Also found in: England, Denmark, Italy, Slovenia, Czech Republic)

Ireland – Less than 1%

Great Britain – Less than 1% (

Primarily located in: England, Scotland, Wales

Also found in: Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Italy)

Europe East – Less than 1% (Primarily located in: Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria, Russia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia

Also found in: Germany, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Estonia, Bulgaria) 

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It feels empowering to know where I’m from. All those years of guessing from Liberia to Jamaica, are over. I can look at a map and know beyond America, where I’m from. 

It’s also a brutal reminder of the deep painful history of slavery, of which I am a part. So many people want to move past slavery, but the legacy of that peculiar institution is literally RUNNING through our veins, our hearts and our spirits. Knowing who you are is connected to your esteem. It gives you a context and a legacy to plug in to, and it is like a compass for where you should be going.

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Caption: Signage regarding “Women’s Work” at Oak Alley Plantation

I am a PROUD African (in America)! I was teased about my strong features (nose & lips) growing up, and it feels good to know that Africa engraved clear symbols on me that will likely continue for generations to come.

My goal now is to immerse myself in the cultures. I’d like to visit each of the countries that are a part of my genetic makeup, learn about the history and eventually pass it down to my children (and their children).

For me, this genetic test is only the beginning… My goal is to reclaim the dignity, power, influence and legacy that was robbed of my ancestors when they exited the door of no return on the Ivory Coast… I’m on a mission!

My Job Is In Love With Me???!!!!!

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Caption: Me at the DH Tent at Made in America in Philly last summer… #ALLDAY

At times I’ve worked multiple jobs (at one point I was a Full Time student and had not one, not two, but THREE jobs).

At one point I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but soon realized that my real calling was teaching and writing.

Every single job I’ve had whether it was standing in the drive-thru at McDonald’s or standing in front of 140 students per day taught me something about myself, about others and about the world.

After finishing up about 5 e-mails to members of our Instructional Team and partners we’re working with on initiatives, it hit me.

For the first time EVER, not only am I totally & completely in love with my “job,” my “job” is totally & completely in love with me!

Now don’t get me wrong… every day is not sunshine and rainbows and glitter. Some days are ROUGH… People take advantage of my kindness… Sometimes doors are slammed in my face – both literally and figuratively… and sometimes the insecurity monsters nibble on the fear that creeps in every now and then.

But those rough days are no comparison to the good days… the days when someone says you’ve said or done something that they’ll always remember… the days when you get to be a fly on a wall and witness creative genius in its purist form… the days when you can close your laptop, your calendar, your notebook with an overwhelming sense of peace, motivation and fullness.

I’ve been at this Executive Director thing for 21 months and this “job” is the joy and the center of my heart.

I thank God for not only answering my prayers, but for empowering me to be a persistent, unwavering and impervious force of change.

I am, about my Father’s business…

More Time…

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Caption: Photo taken by me from the passenger seat, on my way back to Chicago from Indiana.

Lately I’ve been feeling like I need more time…

More time to write. More time to read. More time to look around my mind.

People think that when you become an entrepreneur, you’re going to have more free time, but the reality is the exact opposite. 

The more successful your business becomes, the more obsessed and preoccupied you become.

The demand for your presence, your time and your space increases, and the reality is that your world becomes so much smaller.

My one year anniversary as a Full-Time Entrepreneur is quickly approaching and I have to say I’ve learned so much!

The word that keeps floating up to the top is intentionality.

When it comes to time, I’ve learned to try to “let go” of things that were out of my control. When things don’t go as planned, you acknowledge it, write a report about it (to force yourself to find the lesson) and then you move on…

I’ve learned to put out fires immediately because where there’s smoke, nine times out of ten a fuse has been lit that will lead to an explosion. Smell the smoke, water-down the fuse.

I’ve learned to communicate as much as possible on the front end. My goal everyday is to speak clearly and articulately to try to remove any room for miscommunication or misinterpretation. Both miscommunication & misinterpretation are time drainers. Make it clear and make it plain from the very beginning.

I’ve learned to filter the information (and the people) I share my time with. The things people say, the things people do and the energy they carry has a direct impact on everything & everyone surrounding them. If I spend too much time around someone who complains all the time, someone who is not interested in growing or someone who just sends bad vibes, it slows me down & it makes the days longer and the work – the things that must be done – harder.

I’ve learned to communicate my needs quickly and clearly. Whether that’s more time or whether that’s lack of interest on a project. Whether that’s a “yes,” or a “no.” No is complete sentence.

I’m stronger. I’m a better communicator. The “why” has always been clear. But now, I’m more clear on the “what,”. and the “how.” I’m committed to helping to build something that lasts longer than me on this planet. Something that will see the year of 3014 and because of that… I always feel like I’m running out of time…

3 Reasons Why You Should Join Me at COSEBOC in Memphis

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 Caption: me presenting at “Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority’s Inc’s Golden Alert Town Hall Meeting w/ MC Lyte.” Photo by Juan Anthony Images.

In two weeks, I will be joining two of my Echoing Green – Black Male Achievement Fellows, to present at COSEBOC’s  (Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color) Annual Conference: A Gathering of Leaders in Memphis. Tennessee. 3 Reasons why I’m super excited about this:

#1. I am super inspired by the work of my co-fellows. William, is the founder of Village of Wisdom. At Village of Wisdom, they work with families to help youth develop the resiliency and self-confidence they need to navigate the academic opportunity gap. Alex, if the founder of The Anew School. The Anew School “takes African-American 7th and 8th grade boys to Ghana, West Africa for a two-year immersive experience, where we provide them a clean academic slate, free from stigmatizing labels such as “at-risk,” “free and reduced lunch,” etc.” When it comes to working with youth, we have to think more in terms of a systemwide approach if we are going to really move the need for black people in America. It’s not a conversation about whether we need to focus more on in-school experiences or out-of-school experiences or access to arts vs. access to athletics. Anyone or any organization that is seeking to improve the lives of black youth of color is doing important work, and the more that we can start collaborating and sharing, the better off our youth and our community will be. Learn more about the other equally inspiring BMA fellows here: http://www.echoinggreen.org/fellows?field_fellow_type_value=Black+Male+Achievement+Fellow.

#2. William. Alex and I are all former classroom teachers – so we understand the importance of what happens in the classroom. We also understand the challenges that educators and administrators face. The skills that I learned as a teacher are incredibly valuable and really translate well into my work as an Executive Director.

#3. Our session is entitled “Ring My Bell: Unleashing Your Inner Entrepreneur to Leverage Free Resources for Innovation.” We are excited to share what we’ve learned on our social-entrepreneur journey both individually and collectively. Innovation does not always have to cost an arm and a leg! Our interactive session will give those in our session a blueprint for finding and securing free resources.

Register for COSEBOC and learn more about the conference here: http://coseboc.org/annual-gathering. Be sure to say hello if you’re in attendance at the conference & follow the official hashtag;  for conference updates!

What’s Wrong With The Phrase “Power Couple?”

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Caption: Photo by Juan Anthony Images

Every time I hear the words “power couple” I cringe. Whether someone calls my husband and I that, or I hear someone else use those words, it never quite sits well with me. When it comes to “power,” I cannot help but think about the opposite end of the spectrum – disempower. There are many words that I love to claim… peace… balance… happiness… success., but “power” has never been on my list of desired characteristics or character traits. “Power” implies a separation from the people. It implies that someone (or a group of people) has “it” and others (usually a large group of people) don’t. I’m not interested in separating myself from people in that way. I don’t want people to look at me & think that I have something (power) that they do not…

Now don’t get me wrong… I do believe in influence… I do believe in platforms… I do believe in spokespersons… but all of those terms seem to be more communal in nature… Less aggressive… Less absolute… Less rigid… and even influence, platforms and spokespersons should be cushioned in community, owned by the people and treated with grace, humility and responsibility.

I’m much more interested in being an EMPOWERED Couple… I believe that my physical frame is just that. A temporary “uniform” to house my soul & my energy. “Power” in my opinion comes from God and God EMPOWERS us to do what he needs/wants us to do. I did not wake myself up this morning… I did not have the POWER to do that. As the Executive Director of a non-profit, the students that I serve and the team that I belong to EMPOWERS me by ALLOWING me to serve as a midwife to their dreams and goals. That POWER belongs to them, so they EMPOWER me… Our TEAM is one in which everyone feels EMPOWERED to do whatever needs to be done to fulfill our mission. It’s not beholden to one individual (including me).

To me EMPOWERMENT is a much healthier descriptor of who we are and what we stand for. It is much more symbiotic than hierarchical. It is much more accessible than hoarded and hidden. We need more empowered couples if we want to have healthier relationships/marriages, healthier families and healthier communities. #EMPOWEREDCOUPLE

Speaking of empowering, check out my hubby’s new website: WhoIsRhymefest.com designed by one of our Donda’s House alums Hex Hectic!

Happy 5th Year Anniversary Che!!!

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Caption: Our first photo together ever, the first weekend that we met in person after a month of talking on the phone. January of 2009. Che actually came to visit & speak to my class at Whitney Young!
I think it’s totally appropriate and kind of symbolic that our five year Wedding Anniversary is on Election Day! When we met on Twitter in January of 2009, I never knew that behind that @rhymefest Twitter handle was my future best friend and husband. Today is also especially important, because we were both married before to other people for 5 years – so this is a huge milestone for us!

5 Things You Said That I’ll Never Forget

1. “Forget choose your battles! Choose your enemies, because then you already know what battles are ahead of you.”
2. “The definition of revolution is love.”
3. “Sometimes we have to be the blade that sharpens the steel.”
4. “You’re not a girlfriend, you’re a wife. You’re going to be my wife.”
5. “Everybody wants to be “hot,” but what’s “hot” eventually cools off. I want to be dope, because dope lasts forever.”

5 Adventures I’ll Never Forget

1. Horseback riding in Florida, when our horses decided to take off running fast and we had to hold on for dear life.
2. Being angry about the state of our community (which was Washington Park) and deciding that we could do better and launching our Campaign for Alderman of the 20th Ward less than one year after being married! That campaign was a hell of a honeymoon lol!
3. When you used to do the “VS” game on Twitter before we started talking on the phone. I used to break my neck to participate, everyday around 5 or 5:30 p.m. CST.
4. Driving around Beverly Hills & Santa Monica in the Camaro with the top down.
5. The water fights we used to have in our first apartment together.

5 Things I Love About You

1. How much you give of yourself, your talent and your time to others.
2. Your laugh and your sense of humor. We have so many inside jokes that sometimes all you have to do is look at me and I know exactly what you’re thinking.
3. Your creativity. You are the KING of ideas!
4. Your masculinity. Your motorcycle riding! The base in your voice. Your collection of Timbs.
5. Your mind. You have a beautiful mind. You are so reflective. You know so much about the world because you’ve traveled the world. I love hearing your stories about getting lost in Palestine, seeing Civil Rights murals in Northern Ireland, riding the train and eating Pigeon in London. I never tire of hearing you tell stories!

5 Things I’m Looking Forward To

1. Going half on a baby at some point in the future. We have three little angels in heaven that will one day carry our baby (or babies) into this world safely. I can’t wait to see what he/she/they get(s) from me and what he/she/they get(s) from you.
2. Traveling. We have so much fun when we travel. We don’t worry about money, or time, we just go & do & feel & experience.
3. Our projects. We have so many seeds that we’re watering and feeding. I’m excited to see the fruit & the plants flourish.
4. Our children & one day grandchildren grow up. I can’t wait to see my bonus (step) babies grow up and become their own forces of nature on the world.
5. “Raising” Donda’s House into a full-grown, international organization for young creatives.

5 Ways that You’ve Impacted Me

1. You’ve supported me as I’ve made the transition from a traditional job to a social entrepreneur.
2. You’ve helped me to be better at debate & helped me step outside of my comfort zone on so many occasions. Outside of the comfort zone is where true growth happens.
3. You’ve shown me that two broken and hurt people can create a beautiful, powerful whole! We patched each other up and loved each other to health.
4. Because of you I know that God is real. Our love is miracle, and God sent us to each other to help keep us on the path that he set out for us. While our love is amazing and the greatest gift I’ve ever received, I know that it doesn’t stop there. We were sent here for something far greater than just loving each other.
5. When I look at before Che & after Che photos and journal entries I realize that I’m a better woman today! A more confident, acne-free, smaller, happier woman. I’m a reflection of you, and you are a reflection of God, and I’m so grateful for these last five years.
To Forever!!!! I love you baby!
Yours Always,
Donnie Nicole Smith