Are We The Greatest? – Lessons from Muhammad Ali

While scrolling Facebook yesterday, I saw the headline “Muhammad Ali On Life Support”. I immediately felt a knot in my stomach. For as long as I can remember, Ali has been my personal example of a superhero in the flesh. The knot came into my stomach because in many ways like one of our greatest heroes, our community is on life support. Due to concentrated poverty, apathy, the funding infrastructure for schools & the breakdown of our families – black people in America are in the fight for our lives.

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Seeing Ali tower over his opponents with such fierceness and power was a visual reminder that any challenge – no matter how great could be overcome. Ali reminded us through his presence and his poetry that whatever we set out in our minds to do -we could accomplish. Long before the mindfulness movement became mainstream, and far in advance of the affirmation movement, Ali was showing us how to recognize, declare and walk in our greatness.

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I couldn’t sleep last night because I couldn’t stop thinking about The Champ’s condition. The headline, “Muhammad Ali Dies at the age of 74” and a waterfall of tears came. The tears came because our hero had made his transition and all I could think about was the fact that we have more African American millionaires than we’ve had in history. We have more ways to use our platform via social media than we’ve ever had before but we have more black men in prison than we’ve ever had before. 47% of our African American 18 – 24 year olds in Chicago are either unemployed or not in school. Our community is the epicenter in many ways of health disparities. We are still trying to convince people that we are human, that we matter and that we are deserving of our basic human rights, but we’ve gotten so caught up in our individual pursuit of happiness and success that we’ve lost sight of our collective pursuit of happiness and success.

Our Brother, Muhammad Ali, used every opportunity to speak about and highlight institutional racism & he did so unapologetically, coherently & swiftly. He used his platform to uplift his people, even when that meant he would suffer personally. He lived on the Southside of Chicago at one point, and he was accessible to his people. He shared his love and his presence with our brothers and sisters in Africa – at a time when it wasn’t trendy or popular to do so. He affirmed their humanity!

We need a million men like Ali to rise up in his place. Men of character. Men of integrity. We have many men walking around with the intellectual and athletic skill of Ali, but we have few with the integrity and the heart of Ali – and that’s why I cry. The year is 2016. In numerology, 9 is the number of completion, so I am not totally surprised that Ali (and so many other great human beings) made his exit this year because he left just as poetically as he arrived.

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In 1954, a 12 year old Cassius Clay had his bike stolen, which lead him to a gym as he sought revenge from the thief. Interestingly enough Joe Martin, a white police officer told him he’d “better learn to box.” 6b9c32388667f3c44b7ca1bd136e7edd

This past year, I had the opportunity to attend Rumble Young Man, Rumble an event that took place at the Muhammad Ali Center, sponsored by the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville Kentucky is the epicenter for black male achievement work and multiple leaders gathered to share ideas, build coalitions and center ourselves to return home to continue to work on improving the world for African American men and boys.

Here are my photos from the Rumble:

Ali is the stuff that legends are made of and I am certain that because of his example, we will all continue to pursue the greatest versions of ourselves and once we do that our people will be the greatest version of ourselves…

Beyonce’s “Lemonade”- A Love Letter To Black Women

 

beyonce-project-lemonade-compressedI just finished watching the HBO Special “Lemonade” which premiered Beyonce’s new visual album.

My favorite feature of the visual album was the range of emotions displayed before each scene including words like “denial,” “reformation,” and “forgiveness.” Black women stereotypically are limited to certain emotions, with the most recognizable being the “angry black woman,” but we too experience a range of emotions.

There is a line in the film that features an older black woman, assuming that it’s Beyonce’s Grandmother Hattie’s 90th birthday saying, “I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.”

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The artists that stand the test of time are those that stand alone. Those who create music that doesn’t sound like anyone else. Those who tap into the cypher of human emotion. Those who sing the words, dance the dances and walk the walks that we imagine. Those who are not so caught up in their own lives to listen to and translate the experiences of everyday people.

 

“What a time to be alive…” A time where my first lady shares the same complexion as me. A time where the first Black President of ABC is a woman (Channing Dungey). A time where a black woman can make a cable network free for a weekend and premiere a one-hour, commercial free Visual album!!!

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Black women have a history of making the world stop. Ida B. Wells stopped the world when too many of her brothers were being hung from trees. Phillis Wheatley stopped the world when she published her first book of poetry. Madame CJ Walker stopped the world when she became the first self-made female millionaire in America. Bessie Coleman stopped the world when she became the first American to hold an international pilot license. To be a healthy, happy, successful, loving, courageous, wealthy black woman in America is to make lemonade. Beyonce represents that sweet tangy flavor with her new album & with her brand, and it is SO REFRESHING that we can all collectively take a sip!

The full Visual Album and the audio are available on Tidal!

Check out my other pieces on Beyonce (in no particular order):

15 Years of Beyonce…and counting: https://donnienicole.com/2013/12/13/15-years-of-beyonce-and-counting/

Beyonce’s Workout: https://donnienicole.com/2011/04/26/beyonces-workout/

Beyonce’s New Website: https://donnienicole.com/2012/04/06/beyonces-new-website/

Why Your Team Is More Important Than You: https://donnienicole.com/2016/02/06/why-your-team-is-more-important-than-you/

Hello Baby Blue Ivy: https://donnienicole.com/2012/02/12/hello-baby-blue-ivy/

 

Web Wednesday – Free Images, Black Director for a New Marvel Film & Grants for Women Business Owners

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Caption: Black Cinema House located in Chicago, IL. 

I love to research! I can literally get lost reading articles and clicking links for hours. Why keep all that good news, helpful hints, etc. to myself? I’ll be posting cool things I’ve found around the web every Wednesday, starting today.

  1. Free Images You Can Use

The New York Public Library just uploaded 200,000 images you can use for free! Check out the article via “The Verge” here: http://www.theverge.com/2016/1/6/10723680/nyc-library-public-domain-images-digital.

2. Creed was an excellent movie! The director of that film Ryan Coogler, will be directing Marvel’s “Black Panther” Film. My husband is a comic head, so I know my way around the Marvel Universe (or at least, enough to know how much of a big deal this is!) Check out the story via Huffington Post here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/creed-director-ryan-coogler-tapped-to-lead-marvels-black-panther_568aa572e4b06fa68882e6b1?utm_hp_ref=entertainment&ir=Entertainment&section=entertainment.

3. Grants for Women Business Owners & general tips on how to write grant applications: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/247215

4. First Black Woman Owned Comic Book Shop in Philly! Congrats to Ariell Johnson, a  real-life Wonder Woman!!!

That’s all for now! See you next Wednesday!

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!

What To Do When You’re Told “No”

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Caption: My beautiful soror & owner of Phatbulous Fashionista & I at our (PRO)ject US Nerd Prom Event (Donda’s House collaborative Fashion Program).

Last week I received two pieces of devastating news. In both cases, it was connected to Donda’s House. When you apply for a grant, it’s almost like applying for a job… you wouldn’t even apply if you didn’t think you were qualified. When you first hear about a grant, it’s so exciting! You imagine ALL of the possibilities of what you’re going to do with the funding, and after you click “submit,” you eagerly anticipate the news.

In this case the news came to my inbox. “We regret to inform you…” I exited out of the screen with a thud. This was the second piece of bad news I’d received that week. My first thought was “I just want this week to be over…” I crawled over to my hubby and laid on his chest and I started to cry. He was very encouraging and my level of “sulkdom” was not as bad as it could’ve been but for the rest of the day I operated like an inflated balloon. I didn’t want to take very many calls, wasn’t motivated to do any work. I was choosing to be sad.

The next day I woke up and figured that I had to work overtime for four “yes” (es) to replace those two “nos.” The first thing that I did was to consider what were similar opportunities that I could find? Which relationships do I have that could help me get to those similar opportunities? I went to work. I started e-mailing, proposal writing and texting my tribe. (NOTE: Your tribe is a group of people who share similar values that may do similar work, they are also the people who are super encouraging and that lift your spirits). On day two, I was down but not defeated.

The one thing I tell myself in those situations when I don’t get what I want is, “Everything happens for a reason.” It always makes me feel better. So I repeated those words to myself the entire day. The best cure for a “no” is overtime! After you’ve been told “no,” you have to do twice the amount of work to replace those “nos.”

The kingdom of “sulkdom” is always willing to embrace you, but you’ve got to be a temporary visitor and take that return flight back to reality and back to your dreams!

CLIQUE/CLICK: Quirky, Brown Love posted 200+ black bloggers divided by categories including Fashion, Lifestyle, Parenting, you name it! Be sure to bookmark and give them some “clique/click” love: http://www.quirkybrownlove.com/2015/08/200-amazing-black-bloggers-list.html

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.

Usher In The Future That We Imagine Tomorrow…

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I had the honor and the privilege to attend a lecture by Sister (Dr.) Angela Davis earlier tonight with my husband and several of our Donda’s House, Inc. students. I want to share some of the thoughts that resonated with me:

– There is a difference between addressing individuals who commit racist acts vs. addressing structural racism. Emotionalism often causes us to attack the individuals and as Dr. Davis said, it easily reproduces itself…

– We would not have free public education, if it weren’t for slaves…

– Harriet Tubman is a great example of a selfless individual who “ushered in the future that we inhabit today.” Dr. Davis wants us to imagine a world without any guns and without any racism…  Harriet Tubman was referenced as an example of someone who put the needs of the community above her own needs. “We have a hard time imagining anything outside ourselves.

– Mass Incarceration is fueled by racism and the globalization of capital which is fueled by profit and not people’s needs.

– We can’t just address one part of violence or racism and expect it all to go away.

– “Unity + struggle + organization = victory”

My three she roes: Harriet Tubman

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Mrs. Marian Wright Edelman:

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Ella Baker:

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The Verdict on BET’s Being Mary Jane…

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I watched Being Mary Jane  on my DVR with my sister-in-law  (a.k.a. sissy). It was ridiculously real and hauntingly familiar. From the creator of Moesha, Girlfriends and The Game, we get Mary Jane Paul, a woman who has the career, the home and the car but aches for something more consistent and stable in her love life.

The 1 hour & 30 minute pilot explored so many topics: black sexuality, racism in the workplace, unemployment, teen pregnancy, monogamy, and the list goes on and on. There were at least three moments in the show where I was literally shocked. Shocked because here were some fictional characters with imaginary lives tackling some very real issues. In the era of TV Talent Shows and Scripted Reality TV Shows, it is refreshing to see a hard-core drama, not a situational comedy and not a documentary on television but a roller coaster ride, talk back to the TV, pause it and call your girl to discuss kind of drama. I am even more impressed and dare I say proud that Being Mary Jane was brought to us by BET, because after all, it is a platform that should be telling our stories…

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So thank you Mara Brock Akil & Salim Akil of Akil Productions for creating a black woman who is strong, independent and fierce, while also being vulnerable, naive and impulsive. I can’t even get into how dynamic and developed Mary Jane is and how invested I am in her story. Thank you Debra Lee for providing a platform for this story and for moving black women beyond video vixens and veejays. Thank you Gabrielle Union for being an amazing actress and for bringing this character to light. On this July 4th as I watch the fireworks explode in the sky, I am hoping for nothing but success for this project, its creators and the network.

 

Pillow Talk: Too $hort Debate

My husband Che (a.k.a. “Rhymefest”) and I have regular healthy debates about various issues. Today while I was at work, this popped up in my g-chat. We thought it would be a good idea to start sharing some of these convos & would love to know where you stand… You can quickly read the back story on the Too Short Advice Column/XXL Fiasco here: http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/02/too-shorts-xxl-advice-video-prompts-outrage-petition-and-apologies/
che: I’ve been on twitter defending Too Short lol
donnie: NOOOOOO
  noo, noo, noo!
  Bad, bad, bad!
che: oh yeah
  lmao
 donnie: OMG babe…
 che: Too $hort used those exact same words from the article in a song from the early 90’s http://youtu.be/yuMIl86kj4E so while we complain about what he says now it highlights a bigger problem with us as fans. Short Dog did what he’s always done  and he advocated what he’s never been called on before. The real villain is XXL mag and nobody knows the name of the person who thought this was a good idea and no one cares about the media puppeteer. While they didn’t put the words in his mouth they certainly knew what he was prone to say based on his artistic history. It’s like Casey Anthony giving young mothers baby sitting tips. Last month it was Nikki Minaj, This week its Too Short Next week itll be another and not once do we critique the mainstream media that thinks its cute to distribute this crap!
donnie: Ok… I totally agree with you. But I also believe in artistic responsibility. At the end of the day, Too Short’s Lyrics had a parental advisory. The songs he made from the 90s were targeted at adults.
  I think it is problematic (almost sexual abuse) that he KNOWINGLY opened his mouth and said those words when he knew the interview was going to be for teenage boys. It would be one thing if XXL said, “this is for our readers” without specifying the age. They specified the age. Too Short is 46 years old.
  He should have known enough to say “don’t say this is for young boys” or anything of that nature.
  Plus, it was an interview which is not the same as song lyrics. Now in terms of actual responsibility – whoever green lighted that project should be held responsible – fired even. The specific words he said about sexual pleasure and all that. Not appropriate.
che: Not true at all that those songs were targeted at adults, how many adults did you know listening to “Freaky Tales”? Adults were too busy ripping their children’s ribbons out the Too Short Tapes. I don’t advocate what he said at all, yet I would also ask which medium has a larger appeal to youth in todays society the written word or the music?
donnie: Let’s say your teenage daughter wants to be a journalist and she reads XXL. Would you want her reading those words of a 46 year old man? Or even worse, it was video! That is child porn!
  I agree that music has a wider appeal than the written (or visual) word…
  Heck, even i was listening to “Freaky Tales” as a young girl, but that doesn’t make it right… Most black girls (1 out of 4) are sexually abused (raped or molested) before they turn 21.
  And it’s usually by an adult in their lives.
che: I will again point to the words he used in 1988 ‘Don’t fight the feeling’ “I wont i ask, I wont beg, reach over rub your leg, let my hand slide between your mini skirt slip a finger in your P***** and straight go to work”
donnie: I get that…But again – Parental Advisory… He didn’t say, “this is for teenage girls.”
che: when young people purchase music on line what does Parental advisory mean
donnie: Music is not the same as a face to face interview.
 che: did he put the sticker there? These practices in fake precaution are not good reasons to excuse the music’s influence and targeted audience.
donnie: I just think it’s irresponsible PERIOD for a GROWN man to tell a teenage boy how to have sex with young girl in public…
 che: I agree and as always honey youre right
 donnie: He’s old enough to be someones granddaddy. As a mother, it is my job to teach my daughter how to protect herself & how to be responsible and how to avoid getting pregnant. It is NOT my job to teach her how to give oral sex or how to engage in specific sex acts. Unfortunately, most fathers don’t feel that way about their sons…
che: While I don’t agree with what Too $hort said and believe it promotes the opposite image of what a healthy relationship is to young men and women. I also think its to easy to place most if not all the blame at his doorstep. Artist are killing children everyday with words and images, as Adults stand by and allow the media to flood the airwaves with death. I’m suggesting that the editors at XXL thought this was a good idea because no one has complained about Short Dog in the last 30 years and he’s been saying all the same things to a wider audience. As the father of two girls and one boy and in a healthy loving marriage its my job not to hide the ugly evils that exist but prepare my children to face the world with a little wisdom, a healthy sense of caution, and a whole lot of common sense.Sincerely A Too $hort fan…