The Sweet Life: Michelle Obama’s Becoming Tour Recap

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The mood was festive! When we walked in there were large photo backdrops with lines of people, mostly women, getting their perfect shots. Merch tables were selling photos, posters and of course books! I overheard one person asking if there were any more signed books. “We sold out of those already.”

When we walked in to the stadium we were greeted with festive music and a backdrop of photos from Michelle’s Obama’s Journey both personal and professional. From clips of her on Sesame Street, to Lebron James, to Will Ferrell, during her family’s time in office Michelle Obama became a part of pop culture. Once she had her initiatives, Let’s Move, Let Girls Learn, she went to where the people were and spoke to us in a language that we could understand. It was a reminder that when we saw Michelle Obama, a black woman from the South Side of Chicago as the First Lady of the United States, our country’s version of the “Queen” we had visual proof and confirmation that anything was possible.

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Caption: L, Kris Christian, my friend, myself and Del-Marie, an alumnus of Art of Culture and one of my mentees/musical daughters. 

My mentee Del-Marie, my friend Kris and I made our way to our suite. Our suite was stocked with food, snacks and a mini fridge filled to capacity with soda & water. The room was filled with women non-profit organizational leaders and their mentees. We all introduced ourselves while enjoying the very delicious spread. We quickly made our way to our seats as the chatter in the stadium quieted in anticipation of the show beginning.

Michelle Obama and Oprah

Photo Credit: Rob Grabowski, Invision, AP News. 

The show started with Oprah Winfrey coming out to introduce Michelle via a video about her life. The graphics and visuals were all on point! That was followed by a powerful montage of people sharing who they were becoming in person and on video. Once the video ended Michelle and Oprah came onstage to take their seats. The backdrop was a large screen on top of golden yellow curtains. The seats were a dark teal and perfect frames for Oprah & Michelle’s beautiful brown skin.

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Michelle rocked a shimmery off one shoulder top, white pants and hot pink heels. I wrapped my head around the fact that I was sitting in the United Center for a book tour, and it was a packed house. According to Time Magazine, 14,000 to be exact. People attend the United Center for concerts, sporting events and now, thanks to Michelle Obama – book talks. Despite the fact that there were so many people in the stadium, Oprah & Michelle managed to make it feel like we were sitting in a small room with them. You could hear pockets of laughter, “Amens” and cackling when certain points were made. Here are some of the nuggets from the conversation which lasted 90 – 120 minutes. Although I wish I could represent the conversation in it’s entirety, I’m highlighting those things that stood out to me.

On Motherhood

  • Michelle shared how when she called herself “Mom-in-Chief” she received a lot of criticism for that.
  • She shared a story about how she wanted to try to normalize the experience of living in the White House for her daughters so unless they were doing formal dinners, she wanted the staff to dress more casually and not in full tuxedos. She said living in the White House was like living in an expensive hotel.

On Marriage

  • During her 20/20 interview with Robin Roberts she spoke about how she and Former President Obama went to marriage counseling. Oprah highlighted the fact that had become headline news. Michelle went into more detail about that.
  • She described how when her husband was Senator he had to travel a lot and how that impacted the family. When they went to counseling she wanted the counselor to tell Barack his issues, but wasn’t quite prepared for them to help her deal with her own issues. Her biggest takeaway from counseling was that she was responsible for her own happiness.
  • She also talked about how she didn’t want the girls and her to be in a position where they couldn’t eat because they were waiting for their father. They made adjustments and dealt with it from there.
  • There was a really cute video clip of Sasha & Malia sharing how they had more ice cream during the campaign season than they ever had in their life. They also talked about that night in Grant Park seeing everyone crying and screaming. They also talked about how proud that their mom as First Lady had, and how cool it was that she was also their mom.
  • She described having children as the first “joint project” for many couples. In many cases the wife has her thing and the husband has their thing, but the children is “our” thing which presents couples with challenges.

On Negativity

  • Oprah asked Michelle “How do you continually go high when the game is set against you?”  Michelle’s response was to “Do the work.” She said “your work will speak for itself.” She also talked about “having a lot to do distracts you from the pettiness. If you’re pushing a real agenda you don’t have time to play those games.” Finally she spoke of learning about moving the needle and the importance of removing our ego so that we can get things done.
  • Her parents encouraged her curiosity and they encouraged her and her brother to use their voice.
  • In safe spaces and private moments she would have “bubble moments” where she would really say what she wanted to say but then when she would come out in public she would say what needed to be said. She also said “You do not say the first thing that comes to the top of your head” and cautioned against that being acceptable.

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On Women

  • She said that we were still trying to figure out what we believe women can do. She described Hillary Clinton and others hitting a ceiling.
  • She also described how women were voting against their interests, and both her & Oprah mentioned wrestling with the why.
  • Oprah asked her a question about what she has learned about being in rooms with powerful men from Sidley Austin (the private law firm she used to worked for) to others. Michelle said “Our fear that our story doesn’t matter, it chokes us.” She then went on to talk about how we are often more qualified than some of the people who don’t believe that we should be there. How important it is that we speak up when we are in those rooms and at those tables, otherwise we are not making the most of the opportunity for ourselves and others.
  • She talked about how women often have ourselves 4th on our list, and we need to put ourselves closer to the top.

On The Writing Process

  • While writing she wrote the majority of the book before sharing it because she wanted to be transparent. She would share chapters with some of her early readers one of which included Oprah Winfrey and also her mother.

On Leadership & Life

  • She talked about the pressure being the first black family and how she felt the need to be perfect.
  • She described how hurtful some of the criticism was during the campaign and while her husband was in office.
  • She described reading the newspaper and seeing everything that was going wrong in the country being her husband’s responsibility, which is also where her empathy for anyone holding that seat emanates.
  • She talks about learning how to play the piano from her Aunt Robbie on an imperfect piano. The “middle c” was where you were supposed to start to play. On her piano at home the middle C was chipped and brown, but all of the other keys were yellow. When she played her first recital on a Baby Grand, she thought “This isn’t a piano” because all of the keys were perfectly white. She then used that as a metaphor saying that “Many of us are learning to play music on an imperfect piano and don’t even know it.” That was probably the story and the image that stuck with me the most from last night.

 

Caption: The above video features Non Profit Leaders + Their Mentees! We were all in the suite together. 

I highly encourage you to purchase and read the book. It is 426 pages! I plan to start reading it today! For those who were in attendance, if there was something that resonated with you that I didn’t cover but that may be helpful for others please share in the comments below.

I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to share this experience with one of our Art of Culture alums Del Marie Nelson. Del is a creative powerhouse with a beautiful soul. I will never forget the image of her writing notes during Michelle’s talk and her sharing the moments that resonated with her throughout. Our mission through Art of Culture is about providing access and information, and last night we were able to do just that. Thank you to Derrick Christian and Kris Christian for making last night possible for Del & I. I pray that you both are immensely blessed. Sometimes you feel overlooked. Running a non-profit is not easy and the stack of no’s is often towering over the stack of yes’s. Last night you guys said yes to us, and for that we are forever grateful. We needed that energy so much!

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Lastly, thank you to Oprah Winfrey and to Michelle Obama for being shining examples of powerful, strong, unapologetically intelligent and graceful black women. You both have been North Stars for me throughout my personal and professional journey. If I am ever afforded the opportunity to meet you both in person, I will share that with you! I pray that my life and my work can have a fraction of the impact that yours has had on me and so many others.

Side Note: Exactly one year ago today, I had the pleasure of participating in the first Obama Foundation Event, and had the opportunity to meet President Obama.

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I recorded clips throughout the night for all of the people who for whatever reason couldn’t be in attendance. I want you to know that I thought of you last night. Here is a Dropbox link where you can view some fo the footage I recorded: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/6maqej50q5nw7ro/AADFZnMpTHu-OXQLWUtX66ADa?dl=0. I hope it inspires you and you can get an idea of what it was like to be there!

It was an absolute miracle that God pulled through in the last minute for me to attend. Read the full story here.

 

SPOILER ALERT: Wakanda Action Plan – A Guide To Manifesting Wakanda

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Caption: My sister Laurinda & I after we saw the film this past Friday for the first time.

NOTE: Please do not read if you have not seen the film Black Panther! There are spoilers!!!!

Why Black Panther The Film Matters

The best part of Black Panther was seeing all of the little kids walking out excited.

In addition to the customary:

What’s your favorite color?

What’s your favorite food?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Another ice breaker for little people is “who is your favorite superhero?”

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Spiderman, Superman, Batman and Captain America when unmasked are not reflections of little brown boys and girls.

There is Miles Morales, who is to replace Peter Parker as Spiderman, and he’s Black & Latino:

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In many cases Black Superheroes on film have been a part of the ensemble… they contribute to the overall mission but they are NOT the leader or the focus of the storyline.

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Check out this list of 35+ Black Superheroes, ranked by fans.

Imagine what it meant for women and girls when Wonder Woman was introduced in December 1941. It brings me to tears to think that when asked, black children can now say that their favorite superhero is “Black Panther.”

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Wakanda Action Plan + Lessons From The Film

Black Panther as a film is important because (Note: Spoiler Alert!)

(1) “It is the first major superhero movie with an African protagonist; the first to star a majority black cast; and in Ryan Coogler (“Creed,” “Fruitvale Station”), the first to employ a black writer and director.” (New York Times)

(2) Africans and African Americans are often portrayed as primitive, second-class citizens, slaves, ignorant, ghettoized, etc. I’ll never forget my mother sharing stories about her education about Africa. She talked about seeing Tarzan, and learning nothing but limited and negative portrayals of the continent.

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(3) Women are strong, intelligent and assertive. In Black Panther black masculinity is not challenged by black femininity. The male characters express vulnerability – they cry, they show affection to women. In the council of elders, women are represented & play an equal role. The most intelligent character, who is a scientist is T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri. The leading general of Wakanda is Okoye (played by Danai Gurira) who ultimately brings peace by threatening to murder her lover W’Kabi, challenging the stereotype that women make their decisions emotionally.

(4) The film addresses colonialism and white supremacy. The black characters are allowed to express their fear and apprehension of white supremacy & colonialism in ways that are reflective and honest. There are parallels between the most important natural resource “vibranium” with Africa’s actual natural resources – gold, diamonds, etc. Check out this article 12 Ways To Be A White Ally, and this comprehensive tool with tips for being a Strong White Ally. I also wrote a blog about different actions that can be taken to combat racism here. Also if you are a parent, here is a curated list of books that you can read with your children to begin teaching them about racism.

5) The black people in the film are diverse. There are those that live in the “urban” city of Wakanda, those that live in rural areas W’Kabi (played by Daniel Kaluuya) and M’Baku (played by Winston Duke) who lives in a snowy, mountainous area. Then of course you have Erik Killmonger who was an African raised in America.

(6) The tension between individualism and collectivism. T’challa has to wrestle with protecting the safety & security of Wakanda, vs. sharing resources and information for the black diaspora around the world.

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(7) The promise of intergenerational unity. The elders are held in high regard and contribute in meaningful ways to the society. In order for the King to rule, he has to seek council of the ancestors through a ritual. It is the elders that facilitate the challenge rituals.

(8) Hip Hop is the soundtrack. Kendrick Lamar’s voice is heard periodically throughout the film. The film opens with Too Short’s “In The Trunk” and Oakland, an homage to Ryan Coogler’s roots, as he is from Oakland. Oakland also has significance to Black Americans because it is where the Black Panther Party for Self Defense was created in 1966. Notice the symbolism between the classic Huey P. Newton photo, founder of the Black Panther Party and T’Challa:

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Check out the music video Kendrick & SZA did for “All the Stars” which is on the Black Panther Soundtrack:

(9) The film offers a solution at the end – collaboration and cultural exchanges as King T’Challa sets up a center in Oakland where his genius sister will lead a STEM Program for the kids in Oakland. It is a pan-African approach that many African & African American thought-leaders have explored. According to Wikipedia, Modern Pan-Africanism began around the start of the 20th century. The African Association, later renamed the Pan African Association, was established around 1897 by Henry Sylvester Williams, who organized the First Pan African Conference in London in 1900. For further study about Pan-Africanism read the writings and listen to speeches by the following individuals. When it comes to this study I recommend first looking for primary sources where the individuals are speaking directly about their philosophies and then you can read interpretations and second-hand accounts to draw your own conclusions.

(1) Malcolm X

(2) Kwame Nkrumah

(3) Haile Selassie

(4) Marcus Garvey

(5) Muammar Gaddafi (who was pursuing a new currency that all African countries could use prior to his death)

The University of Chicago hosted a Pan African Conference last Fall and created a library with useful articles here.

Here is a list of the top 25 African American Conventions. If you are aware of others that you’d recommend for others to attend please drop a link in the comments section below.

I am on the local advisory committee for Policy Link’s Equity Summit and encourage you to attend the convention in April if you’re in or near Chicago. We are anticipating 4,000+ attendees.

Other things you can do to advance the themes of Black Panther in addition to increasing your knowledge and linking up with other black people (and allies, as the CIA Agent in the film was an ally & we need people of other races to advocate, speak-up and in some cases literally fight against oppression with us)

(1) Donate to an organization that is doing great work in the community. (Donda’s House is always in need of support and I encourage you to learn more about our work with young creatives here or make a contribution to support the work here. Imagination is one of the most important and underutilized tools that we have to fight oppression and our work at Donda’s House is about cultivating the imagination so that we CAN have more Ryan Cooglers, Chadwick Bosemans, Lupita Nyongo’s. Feel free to drop a link to your own organization or favorite organization in the comments below so that more people can learn about you.

(2) Support black-owned businesses. Check out the Brij Embassy (it is an economic approach to creating Wakanda). Also Saint Heron (Solange’s company) has curated lists of Black Owned Businesses in multiple cities available here.

(3) Donate & support black candidates. Shout to my brother Michael Tubbs who is Mayor of Wakanda Stockton, California. Learn more about him here. Follow him on Instagram here. Follow him on Twitter here. I can’t even describe how proud I am as we met through our connection with the Children’s Defense Fund and our mentor Marian Wright Edelman. If you can’t donate volunteer to collect petition signatures, make phone calls, etc. for candidates.

(4) Support black artists & black content creators by purchasing their art, attending their concerts, gallery showings, sharing their work on social media and sharing articles written about them and their work. In 2018, Metrics are super important and it doesn’t cost anything to “like” or “share” content.

(5) Learn more about Afrofuturism. Check out this article here. This article here and finally this article here.

(6) Support the past, present & future of those involved with the film.

Director & Writer- Ryan Coogler – Profile here. On instagram here. Ryan Coogler is not on Twitter.

Writer – Joe Robert Cole – Profile here.

Original Comic Book Writers – Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (now deceased).

THE CAST:

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T’Challa – Chadwick Boseman – Profile here. On instagram here. On twitter here.

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Eric Killmonger – Michael B. Jordan – Profile here. On instagram here. On twitter here.

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Nakia – Lupita Nyong’o – Profile here. Instagram here. Twitter here.

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Okoye – Danai Gurira – Profile here. Instagram here. Twitter here.

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Shout out to the entire Dora Milaje! #squadgoals #tribegoals

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Everett K. Ross – Martin Freeman – Profile here. Not on Instagram or Twitter. There are a couple of fan sites for Martin available.

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Wakabi – Daniel Kaluuya – Profile here. Instagram here (it’s him but he has no posts yet). Twitter here. (Fun Fact: Daniel was also the main character in Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”)

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Shuri – Letitia Wright – Profile here. Letitia is not on Instagram. Twitter here.

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M’Baku – Winston Duke – Profile here. Instagram here. Twitter here. (Apparently this brother has women barking like dogs and willing to move to the snowy mountains lol, at least according to my timeline…)

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N’Jobu (T’Challa’s Uncle & Killmonger’s Father) – Sterling K. Brown – Profile here. Instagram here. Twitter here.

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Ramonda – Angela Bassett – Profile here. Instagram here. Twitter here.

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Zuri – Forest Whitaker – Profile here. Not on Instagram. Twitter here.

For the remainder of the cast click here.

THE CREW:

Music – Ludwig Goransson. Instagram here. Twitter here. Check out this interview of Ludwig discussing the soundtrack here.

Director of Cinematography – Rachel Morrison. Instagram here. Twitter here.

Casting – Sarah Finn – Instagram here. Not on Twitter.

Production Design – Hannah Beachler  Website here.

Set Decoration – Jay Hart –  Not on social media.

Costume Design – Ruth E. Carter  Instagram here. Twitter here.

To view the remainder of the crew click here.

This is resource. Please feel free to list any links to articles, black owned business directories, articles, etc. that would be helpful for others as we all collectively pursue manifesting Wakanda, as it was represented in the film.

Moving Forward By Looking Backwards

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Caption: Me looking out towards the Ocean at the Door of No Return. 

Identity, agency and affirmation are three of the most important things that we can develop as human beings. Identity is significant because it serves as a fingerprint on the hand that is our culture. It is developed individually but adds to the spectrum of the communities that we belong to. Agency is the pulse of our experiences. The more agency that we have, the richer our experiences are in life. Social stratification has lead to some individuals having more agency than others, but it is agency that serves as our motivation. Those who have it, enjoy the full power of free will and curate the museums of their lives. Affirmation (or lack thereof) powers agency. To be validated. To be seen. To be heard. Affirmation comes from those who serve as our parents and guardians. It comes from our communities. It comes from success.

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Caption: This was the first building constructed on the island. Initially it was a church. Now it is a Police Station for the island. 

Two days ago, I visited Goree Island. Goree is a 20 minute ferry ride off of the Coast of Dakar, Senegal and it serves as a physical reminder of one of the most horrific atrocities in human history.

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Caption: The view of Goree Island from the Ferry as you approach it. 

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Caption: Entrance to Maison Des Esclaves (Slave House) where the “Door of No Return” is located on Goree Island. 

Genetically, I am 94% African. My great great great grandfather Syrus Williams was born into slavery in [insert year]. Had I been born at that time, I would have been a slave. I would have been a person who was stripped of my humanity, who would have been disconnected from my born identity – as a Ghanain, a Congelese, a Senegalese, etc. My agency would have been shackled in the iron balls and chains that I witnessed and my only affirmation would have been my ability to work, to bear children and to collaborate and conspire in the continued destruction of our continued humanity.

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Caption: This room was for “young girls.” Their value was determined by the fullness of their breasts. They weren’t allowed to come out of the room and were expected to relieve themselves inside of the room because if they were seen outside of the room, it would cause a disturbance with their parents who were sometimes only a few yards away in a different holding area. They were often removed by the room and taken upstairs where the slave masters stayed and sexually assaulted. Parents often prayed for their children to become domestic servants so that they could avoid the life of traveling to America and exiting the door of no return. IMG_2042

 Caption: This area was for children. We were told that the value of boys was determined by their teeth. 
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Caption: This area is the view of the door of no return from inside of the slave house. Originally there was no wall and all you’d see is the water. They added the wall for the safety of others. 

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Caption: This is what you see when you step outside of the door of no return and look right. This is the auction block where enslaves persons would be taken two at a time, chained to the floor and the boats would line up to purchase the enslaved persons and take them away. 

“Move on.” “I did not own slaves.” “That was a long time ago.” Are all things that are said. The danger in that is if we do not remember something, we are likely to repeat it. The human experience on earth, outside of these human-caused nightmares has been one of abundance. One of development. Who are we to cut up earth into imaginary boundaries? Who are we to prevent the development of growth of other human beings? Who are we to call anyone an alien. To deny entry. To deny exits.

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Caption: Former President Barack Obama on a visit to the Goree Island. The curator’s area of the museum is filled with photos and notes from some of the celebrities and historical figures that visited. 

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Caption: I used to teach Elie Wiesel’s book “Night” about the Jewish Holocaust. It was exciting to see his name on the wall. 

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Caption: Harry Belafonte is one of the most philanthropic human rights advocates on the planet. It was great to see his photo and letter at the museum. 

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Caption: Mugabe, President of the Republic of Zimbabwe visits Goree. IMG_1941 copy

Caption: Nina Simone visits Goree Island. 

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Caption: Nelson Mandela visits Goree Island. Mandela is an important symbol, not only for South Africa but for many countries. IMG_1932 copy

Caption: What a blessing it was to write the name of my great, great, great grandfather Syrus Williams into the visitor’s registry at Goree Island. 

Many of the buildings on Goree Island are still in shape. The “door of no return” is located in a Museum called the Museo de Esclaves (or slave house). For those Africans who find themselves in South America, the Caribbean and America, it was our collective forced removal from our ancestral home and would lead us to a path of poverty, of second-class citizenship (when our humanity was finally recognized by constitutions) and we’d become a permanent threat – a people to be feared, to be experimented on (often against our will) and to be the worker bees of European and Western Economies. We’d be lucky if our contributions were recognized and our inventions often made our collective burden easier for us all.

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Caption: Barack Obama and Dr. Martin Luther King were two important symbols visible throughout the continent including this mural of Dr. King on the wall of a hotel. 

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Caption: This brother makes wood sculptures that he uses oil to paint into the dark color.We were able to catch him in the middle of a new piece.

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This brother makes “sand tattoos.” He also demonstrated his technique. I purchased four bottles from him.

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Caption: This statue captures a woman clinging to a man who has broken the chains of slavery. It was powerful! They are standing on top of a drum. 

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Caption: Cheikh creates art out of sand. The sand he gets from all over the continent. The orange sand is from Mauritania, the country that was the source of our delegation’s mission. I purchased four pieces from him! He also demonstrated his technique and studied at the Art School in Dakar. 

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Caption: This brother made quilts out of Fabric. I also purchased two pieces from him because his work is so beautiful! He also made his outfit. 

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Caption: Several artists incorporate found objects into their practice, this includes everything from cell phones to trash collected. The art work was absolutely stunning and unique. 

Some of the most beautiful pieces of art and most creative artisans live and work on Goree. I purchased lots of pieces and I was able to get a picture with the artists. I believe that art is therapy and it is one of the ways that our people have processed and coped with the devastation that slavery was for us and it’s horrible remnants that still impact our communities worldwide.

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Caption: This monument was meant to depict a sinking slave ship. 

As our tour guide spoke to us about the history of slavery as he knew it to be on Goree Island I went through many emotions. One was a deep sadness. One was anger. One was disbelief. The men, women and children and the unspeakable horror that they endured made the air thick. I wondered whose fingers had made etches in the stone. I imagined the literally blood, sweat and tears that mixed into the dirt we were walking on. I touched those walls. I walked into those holding cells. I picked up two small rocks to add to my collection. I bore witness, to remember and to keep telling the story. I hope that the language that I speak (English) and my dark skin serve as an advertisement for the strength and the resiliency of the people whose DNA powers my existence today.

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Caption: Restraining devices, chains and weapons that were housed in the museum area of the Slave House. 

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Caption: Me standing at the top of the staircase, directly above the door of no return, facing Mother Africa. 

As we navigate our collective modern day challenges, it is my hope that black people across the globe can learn about what happened in Goree, Ghana, Angola, etc. It is my hope that we can continue to research and learn as much as possible about the many tribes and the many tongues on the continent. It is my prayer that we can all connect to and be proud of our African Heritage. That when we see each other we recognize each other as family members through shared experience. That we take advantage of resources like education and credentials to solve the problems that are really vestiges of the institution of slavery – discrimination, racism, poverty, misrepresentation and oversimplification of our issues in the media, etc. I’m not interested in the people of African Descent inverting the power dynamic, but I am interested in a level playing field, protecting our civil and human rights and ensuring that our culture remains documented, preserved and transferred for future generations.

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Caption: The salt water eats up the iron causing many of the things on the island (including weapons and chains) to stop functioning. Nature always has a way of balancing things out. 

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Caption: Goree Island has a lot of industry. There are restaurants and lots of artists and merchants who also travel to the island on the Ferry with their goods to sell. This photo captures some of the items that were being delivered. 

Video Footage

Below you will find several videos that I captured while in the Slave House on Goree Island. I used both my nice camera and my cell phone to capture video. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate posting them in the comments section below and I will do my best to answer them or find answers to them.

Check Out My Other Pieces About Slavery Here:

The Slave Revolt You’ve Never Heard of: https://donnienicole.com/2011/07/18/the-slave-revolt-youve-never-heard-of/

When The Ancestors Speak: A Tour of Whitney Plantation: https://donnienicole.com/2017/02/26/when-the-ancestors-speak-a-tour-of-the-whitney-plantation/

And the DNA Tests Revealed… Genetics, DNA Testing and Legacy: https://donnienicole.com/2015/08/24/and-the-dna-tests-revealed-genetics-dna-testing-legacy/.

9 Things We Can Do To Combat Racism: https://donnienicole.com/2015/06/18/9-things-we-can-do-to-combat-racism/.

Note: Thank you to the Abolition Institute for making this trip possible. I look forward to continuing to support the mission of eradicating slavery wherever it may be on the globe!

9 Things We Can Do To Combat Racism…

Racism is alive and well in America and anyone who says otherwise is either crazy, delusional, or both.

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Caption: Sending prayers up for the family, friends and loved ones of the 9 victims murdered in Charleston last night.

I was born and raised in the church. A.M.E. Zion as a little girl, and A.M.E. in High School. Who knows how often I was at bible study, choir rehearsal and worship service over the years.

Church is supposed to be the place where you go to lay your burdens down. It’s supposed to be sacred and safe. My heart aches to think that these nine people, in the midst of doing their father’s business, were violently taken away. They welcomed an outsider, a stranger, with open arms and the TERRORIST used a gun, given to him as a gift by his parents, to execute his white supremacist mission of murdering people for no other reason than the color of their skin.

I’m asking God to help me with this one… Help me to not be bitter. Help me to not hate the individual who perpetrated the crime. Tell me what to do and how to do it, as it relates to combating racism…

In honor of the nine lives that were lost… here are ten ways that we (regardless of race) can combat racism:

(1) Share stories, media pieces and news that combats racists stereotypes.

Racism feeds off of racists stereotypes including black people as lazy, ignorant, violent and sub-human. If you come across a story about a black person that combats those stereotypes, SHARE it via social media, in conversations and in professional settings.

(2) Stop saying that racism no longer exists. 

It’s offensive, it’s not true and it perpetuates the problem. Our society is not colorblind and the presence of a Black President does not mean racism just vanished with his election.

(3) Note your own biases and prejudices and intentionally fight against them.

You see a black man walking down the street and you have a thought to grab your purse tighter or walk on the opposite side of the street. Try NOT to clutch your purse tighter, stay on the same side of the street, make eye contact and offer to speak.

(4) Expose yourself, your family and your friends to black history and culture… and not just during Black History Month.

Watch a documentary about Black History, read about an important figure in black history, subscribe to a black publication like Essence or Ebony. If you have children, purchase a book by a black author that features black children. As Black Americans, we don’t have the option to NOT learn about mainstream culture and history. “Opt in” to learn more about the black experience.

(5) Hear all of the facts, before making a decision on a racial event or situation.

Don’t be so quick to dismiss something as an “overreaction” or an “emotional” response before getting the facts. Listen to a variety of perspectives (even those you disagree with) before deciding whether or not something was racist or prejudiced.

(6) Challenge racism when you see it.

Don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out, when you notice a racist act occur. Whether it’s in business, in a professional setting or in your personal life, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, speak up about it. Ask questions to black people you know, who may be able to offer some perspective.

(7) Do something.

Dialogue is the first step. We have to examine the legislation. We have to boycott and call people, companies and media sources out when racism rears it’s hideous head. Not everyone is going to protest in the streets, but you can support the efforts of those who are working on the ground financially and via advocacy.

(8) Help the next generation. 

It doesn’t take anything but time to invest in a young person. Take someone who is younger than you under your wing and mentor them. Bonus points if you reach out to someone who is racially or ethnically or socio-economically different from you.

(9) Vote.

Voting and being civically engaged is one course of action to take. When people commit hate crimes, they have to sit in front of judge. That judge is often selected based on appointment (from someone who was elected) or based on votes. We have to stop allowing others to make decisions for us when it comes to the discrepancies in sentencing, and the manner in which we are arrested, confined and tried. Even if you don’t think it matters, does it hurt to cast a vote?

My list is in no way exhaustive, but it’s just a few ways that you can get engaged if you’re angry, frustrated and desiring of something to do.

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!

You Don’t Understand Kanye, Because You Don’t Understand History

“You Don’t Understand Kanye, Because You Don’t Understand History” by Che “Rhymefest” Smith MUHAMMAD-ALI-SHOWING-OFF-HIS-RIGHT-FIST-CHICAGO-USA-1966-1-C31721

I recently saw a wonderful film called The Trials Of Muhammad Ali. The film documents Ali’s fall from grace as he joined an obscure religious cult called the Nation Of Islam. The Loud Mouth Egotistical athlete once named Cassius Clay, had the audacity to legally change his name to something people of that time in America never heard. In the movie Ali’s own mother appealed to the media to help her son and she alluded to the opinion that he was crazy and brainwashed by this cult.

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When Ali decided not to go to Vietnam partly because in his words “no Vietnamese ever called me Nigger”, the whole country turned on him. He maintained a few fans but by and large Muhammad Ali was ostracized from mainstream society, imprisoned and stripped of his heavy weight title. The experience Ali had is historically similar to many visionaries, revolutionaries and misunderstood geniuses. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could barely find black churches that would accept him in their doors let alone host him to march in their cities.  King’s opposition to the Vietnam War made him a pariah in this country, and especially in large parts of the black community.

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As I listen to the recent interviews Kanye West is giving I hear a man talking about how we deserve a seat at the table of “power”, not that fake “they gave me a great job” nonsense. I hear a man saying how hard he’s worked and personally invested in a dream only to be thwarted by the corporations that clutch to their power like cold corpses.

I hear 2Pac saying “they can’t take us out until we decide to leave” (white manz world).
I hear Malcolm X saying “enough singin, time for some swinging.”
I hear Jack Johnson saying “I’m a man and can be with whoever I choose”.
If you listen to Kanye West and all you hear is ego, and whining I submit that as with all of the aforementioned heroes I named, we had to wait for the world to mature in order to understand their message. Kanye is from the future, and the earth must rotate to allow you time to catch up.