Our First Face to Face Meeting

This morning I had to pick my husband up from Midway Airport. The funny thing about that was that after speaking on the phone for a month, our first face-to-face visit was at Midway Airport. So we decided to retell the story and re-create the moment.

We have different versions of what that day was like, but almost 9 years later, I’m just grateful that we can still make each other laugh, and smile until our faces hurt. Before Che, I prayed for and craved that type of love. I’m thankful that God answered my prayers. Enjoy this candid video:

Avoiding Resentment in a Relationship

One of my sorority sisters posted a question on Facebook asking what people do better as a result of being married. The topic caught fire as everyone chimed in. I responded with:

1. Being able to understand that not all battles are worthy of being fought. Before engaging in a fight or an argument, asking “do I want to fight about this?” is key. Sometimes we have other stuff going on – we’re mad about something at work, we’re thinking about other family issues, we’re tired, etc. and our partners become collateral damage. Fighting affects other areas of the relationship and it often clogs the channels of communication and it makes things complicated. That is not to say that it’s not healthy to disagree and to debate, but to be cognizant of when, why and how you’re disagreeing so that you can change or improve the quality of your relationship.

2. Being able to articulate my feelings (and not allowing resentment to build because of not expressing my emotions). Our partners are talented!!! They worked up some magic to snag us lol. But even the most gifted individual cannot read minds. We can’t assume that by putting out stink bombs – nonverbal cues (eye rolling, slamming doors, being withdrawn, etc.) that our partners are going to get exactly what’s happening in our heads. We have to be able to articulate from our perspective what happened, how it made us feel and what we’d like to see or do moving forward so that we don’t find ourselves in a particular situation again. Being too general “you hurt me” does not give the information needed for our partners to modify their behavior. When the behavior isn’t modified, resentment builds, as the list piles up. It’s not fair to have resentment over something that has not been expressed.

3. Being intentional about growing together by writing down shared goals and a vision for us, versus separate visions (which can cause couples to grow apart). On a annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily basis my husband and I check in about our individual goals and our collective goals. One of the most important roles that we’ve agreed to share is to be accountability partners, which means we have to know what the other person is working on. We have a shared goal of being healthier, so we challenge each other when we see the other eating unhealthy & we purchased a treadmill to make it easier to get our workout in during these cold winter months. The person that I am now, is not the 25 year old my husband married. We all change and we all evolve. In order to ensure the relationship stays strong, you have to have shared goals & shared interests, otherwise you run the risk of one person evolving right out of the relationship, or one person staying so stagnant that the two fall out of love because they don’t have a shared vision for the future.

Gasp… I Met My Husband On Social Media!

Earlier this week, I posted a photo of a little Twitter themed pen container and shared that I met my husband on Twitter. I received several comments – “What?” “How?” and decided that I’d write a blog about it. It’s my favorite story that I never tire of telling…

The year was 2009. I was a High School English Teacher. Married (to the man that would quickly become my ex-husband). I spent a lot of time on social media at the time. Twitter was super popular but was relatively new in my world. Lots of people that I knew and respected were on the platform. At the time my handle was @engteacher. One of my favorite people to follow was @rhymefest, who would play this game every day called the “Vs.” Game. He would ask a series of 4 – 5 questions and people would have to anwer the questions. He’d engage with everyone and retweet or share his favorite responses. For example, “would you rather be a vampire or a werewolf” “would you rather be blind or deaf.” I was also in grad school at the time, and enjoyed playing the game before my classes started. I also wondered about the brain behind the game. The questions were always so interesting and sparked great debate.

One night I was on Twitter, and @rhymefest started tweet-ranting:

“I’m tired of being owned by corporations.” He proceeded to talking about wanting to be free of debt and he wanted to do something. I agreed. He then invited those who wanted to do something about it to direct message him. I sent him my phone number. He called me during my lunch break the next day. We started putting a plan together. We would create an organization called “N.F.F.M” which stood for “New Found Freedom Movement.” We talked about building a community together. We wrote a mission statement. We started writing bi-laws. I started researching grants. We planned to put this community in Atlanta. Our conversations started out very innocent. We would get chunks of work done on our phone calls. At the time he was living in New York City with his girlfriend. I was unhappily married. Our 2 – 3 hour conversations would turn into 5 – 6 hour conversations. We were getting so much done.

Before you knew it, we started talking about more personal things. He told me about his children that were living in Chicago. He confided in me about his music career. I told him about my life as a teacher… and I started to complain about my marriage. He interrupted me… “I’m sorry but unless you’re going to actually do something about your situation, I don’t really want to hear about it.” I was shocked that he would say that, I felt a little anger. At this point we had been on the phone for about a month. After thinking about what he said, I realized that he was right. If I wasn’t happy, I did not have to stay. I was in control of my life. I had gotten married for the first time at 18 years old. I was way too young… I didn’t get married for the first time under the right circumstances… All of that swirled around my head. Little did he know, he was saving my life – as I was in an abusive marriage.

My then-husband and I weren’t on speaking terms. Things had been pretty weird for a year prior to my meeting Che. His mother and I didn’t get along. It was pretty much a mess and I had thrown myself into work (I had perfect attendance at the time, sponsored several clubs and did whatever I could to be out of the house). One day, my then husband asked me if I wanted to go to the movies. I said “no.” He then came back about 15 minutes later and asked if I wanted to go out to eat. I said “no.” He then left and came back 10 minutes later and asked if I still loved him. His way of dealing with things was to not deal with them… until that moment. I thought about what he asked me and I said, “I do love you, I’ll always love you but I’m not in love with you.” He then asked another few series of questions that I gave difficult but honest answers to. An hour later I found myself at Starbucks, speaking to my mom about what happened. I then decided that I needed to move out, and called my best friend Kristie who was there no questions asked, tennis shoes on, ponytail tied, earrings out, she was ready lol.

About two weeks later, Che came to visit Chicago in person for the first time. By this time we had been talking on the phone for 2 whole months. We were like teenagers. We would talk and text every free moment that we had, about NFFM, about our lives, about our hopes and dreams. We would often fall asleep on the phone and then wake up and speak before we started our day. The weekend Che came to visit for the first time, we went to see the Watchmen (which came out 3/6/09) during opening weekend. When I picked him up from Midway Airport and he came down the escalator, he gave me the biggest hug. He actually picked me up and spun me around. No one knew that was our first time being in the same space face-to-face. He smelled so good. After that first weekend Che went back to NYC. Shortly after that visit, I moved into my own apartment. Che came back to Chicago, and we moved in together. My friends thought I was crazy… until they saw us together. When I met his family, they all loved me, and before we knew it, in October of that year we started talking about marriage. I officially got divorced in the Summer of 2009 – I believe it was sometime in June or July. Che and I tied the knot on 2/24/10. We didn’t pick the date to be something special. We just went to the Courthouse. We later found out that our wedding anniversary was the exact date, five years earlier that he got divorced from his ex wife. Just thinking about that gave me goosebumps because it was a total coincidence.

We both were married to other people for 5 years. In Che’s case, he said he’d “never get married” after his ex-wife. My first marriage had also left a bad taste in my mouth about the institution of marriage, but we found ourselves saying “I Do” less than a year after we started officially dating. Here is what I do know:

(1) We found love when neither of us were actively looking for love.

(2) Our foundation was truly built on friendship. Because we were in two different cities, we didn’t have the distraction of sex and being physically together during those first few critical months of a relationship.

(3) Our failures at our previous relationships made it easier to navigate all challenges that came up. We were better communicators because we had both experienced what happens in a relationship when you don’t communicate and you allow resentment to build.

(4) The very thing that initially attracted us to each other was this desire to build. Our honeymoon was Che’s City Council Campaign. Donda’s House is a manifestation of our dreams. Our marriage is just the icing on the cake. We believe that our marriage was divinely ordained. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps.

(5) When two people want each other, there is nothing or no one that can stop them from being together. We both took a huge risk, but ultimately we allowed our hearts to lead the way.

Next year we will celebrate our 8 year Wedding Anniversary and 9 years of being together. We’ve already started talking about what we want to do for our 10 year anniversary in 2020. If you have questions about dating online, or about our courtship please let me know. I’m happy to share whatever I can. Thanks for reading!

Writing has always been my way of processing things. Check out some of my posts about marriage:

What I Know About Marriage – Part 1: https://donnienicole.com/2010/04/22/what-i-know-about-marriage-part-1/

What I Know About Marriage – Part 2: https://donnienicole.com/2010/04/22/what-i-know-about-marriage-part-2/

What I Know About Marriage – Part 3: https://donnienicole.com/2010/04/22/what-i-know-about-marriage-part-3/

What I Know About Marriage – Part 4: https://donnienicole.com/2010/04/22/what-i-know-about-marriage-part-4/

You’re Unhappy? Now What: https://donnienicole.com/2014/05/07/youre-unhappy-now-what/

If you’d like to read more of my pieces on relationships, click here.

 

 

Love Jones 

We often tell kids not to believe movies. It’s imaginary. It’s not real. It can set up the wrong expectations.


The Year was 1997. I was in middle school, but I was an avid writer – of journals & poetry. 4 years earlier I saw Poetic Justice which made me fall in love with the poetry of Maya Angelou. 

Love Jones invited me to learn about Oshun, and the power of philosphy, and memorizing quotes and it was the first film that I consciously remember that featured black intellectuals being cool. Although I was still young, I felt like the characters in Love Jones were people that I wanted to know. 


Love Jones was also the first time that I fell in love with the City of Chicago. At the time I was living in Kansas City, Missouri about to make the transition to Minneapolis, Minnesota for High School. A few short years later, I’d make the decision to attend DePaul University in Chicago.

In addition to Darius Lovehall, Teacake (pre-madness)!from Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God were my two favorite male characters. Little did I know just how much their influence had on who and what I would be attracted to and ultimately who and what I’d marry. 


I jokingly refer to my husband as “my Darius” and “my Teacake.” He’s a creative, he’s into deep intellectual conversations, he truly has his own unique perspective and path independent of what others think about him. He rides motorcycles and he’s a true son of Chicago.

Well next Saturday, Che & I are being honored by Black Harvest Film Festival for our community work! I got goosebumps when I realized that they are also celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Love Jones! In some cases life does imitate art and we get glimpses from the universe that confirm we are exactly where we should be, with whom we should be… It is always a blessing when someone validates you and your work and it’s wonderful that a film that meant so much to me, will be a part of the experience! 

The Tea On Celebrities…

I have had the pleasure of working closely with and being in intimate settings with “celebrities.” The people who grace magazine covers, whose endorsement of a product or place equals support from the masses and who I hear whispered about “you know he’s this…” while I internally shake my head, because I know that the rumor, or the “tea” as it is sometimes called is not true. I’m also a person who values discretion & even if the tea is true, I am not going to be the person to confirm or refute it, just as I would not want someone to share something that I said in confidence.

I have also been called a celebrity, and so has my husband, and I’ve read “celebrity couple” behind mentions of our name in the press. When we meet new people, we are often told how “down to earth” “approachable” “authentic” and “cool” we are. For many, the term “celebrity” has a negative connotation. For the first time in my life, when I go places, I have people recognizing my face… I have people saying that they follow me on social media when we meet face-to-face for the first time and I find myself, especially lately really contemplating what the term “celebrity” means, whether or not it is a label that I (or we) want to embrace and what, if anything is problematic about celebrity.

The term celebrity comes from the latin word celebritas and it means “multitude” “fame” and “celebration.” In America, the people who we call celebrities are often in the entertainment industry – actors & actresses, comedians, athletes, singers and rappers. Sometimes we also add the term in front of other careers like “Celebrity Chef.” On a basic level, celebrity just means a person who is famous or who is appealing to the masses.

So what do I find problematic about celebrity?

(1) Proximity to celebrity is often equated with a person’s value. In my work both personally & professionally I see people pursue fame in lieu of pursuing professional and artistic excellence. My husband often says that both wealth and fame, are by-products of greatness. When you talk to people who are “celebrities” the majority of them did not have a goal of becoming famous. They had a goal of being original, or of making art that challenges or inspires people. I have watched people clamor to celebrities and boast photos with them as if they are somehow better than everyone else because of the access that they have. They sometimes feel and act as if by virtue of the photo or the V.I.P. Pass the rest of the world is unworthy…

(2) People think celebrities are the answer to our world’s challenges. While it is amazing and I am very appreciative of celebrities that are philanthropic, I also understand that celebrities are not the magic elixir to solving our world’s challenges. At least weekly, I receive an e-mail or someone stops me to talk about how we need to make a stop the violence song, and we need to get this rapper, and that singer, and that’s how we’re going to solve Chicago’s violence, world hunger, and get people out of poverty. I am not saying that celebrities do not hold influence and that they shouldn’t be a part of implementing solutions, but what we are dealing with are structural, institutional challenges that require us ALL.

Frankly, celebrities can sometimes murk up the water when they get involved in issues, and it can lead to a mission becoming trivialized or compromised.  I think the Civil Rights Movement provides an excellent example of how we can incorporate celebrities. Often, celebrities provided funding and they opened up their platforms via media and their concerts to address social challenges. Additionally, celebrities have certain causes that they may be passionate about just like non-celebrities have causes that they are passionate about. As the ED of Donda’s House, I don’t try to force every celebrity that I know to care about arts education. I have to do my due diligence (research) to find out what they ARE passionate about, and connect with those whose values and passions align with our organizations. I don’t get upset when my thing isn’t someone else’s thing.

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You also run the risk of celebrities using a cause for their own corporate or branding goals. I’m always suspicious of a celebrity that broadcasts all of their philanthropic efforts, especially when it centers them as some type of savior or hero, rather than uplifting the issue(s) and the people who are being impacted by the social cause. I have many friends who are publicists and I’m married to an artist, so I understand that there is a literally a such thing as brand architecture. Brands are built, and you’d be surprised to learn just how clueless and out-of-touch some celebrities are. We need to hear from our social psychologists, our mental health practitioners, our teachers, our police officers, our block club Presidents, etc. As my brother Glenn Martin often says, “those who are closest to the problem are closest to the solution.” When it comes to solving challenges, those who are closest to the ground, who have committed their lives to social causes, and who are literally living the experiences, are often the best sources for solutions. Not celebrities who are often receiving their information from 2nd- and 3rd- party sources and may be so far removed that they can’t relate or articulate the challenges.

The situation works in reverse too, where people want to use celebrity platforms for their own individualistic desires. Celebrities are just really popular people, so they often see and smell that a mile away. They have people who try to befriend them, steal money from them or broker for-profit deals that are not beneficial to them. No one likes to be or feel used and celebrities are often stockpiled with operatives and people who do not have their best interest at heart. There is a certain skepticism and paranoia that they experience due to constantly being pitched and misrepresented or used.

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(3) People treat celebrities as if they are better than non-celebrities and sometimes celebrities behave as if they are better than non-celebrities. I have been in rooms where there was a noticeable difference between when people had no idea who I or my husband was, and they act one way, and then everything changes when someone tells them what you do or what you’ve done. People literally don’t make eye contact and barely mutter a “hello” & then instantly they are able to give you whatever you need. 5 star service. I have also watched celebrities ignore people who were speaking to them, speak disrespectful to their staff, or to people who were serving them. I have ended personal and professional friendships because someone acted a total fool when a celebrity was in the room. Celebrities can sometimes bring out the worst in people (or be the worst people themselves). I often work event production with celebrities, since I run an arts-focused non-profit and I usually try to stay as far away as possible from the V.I.P. Area or the Celebrity holding area, unless I have a specific job I have to do because I do not want to experience the way that people behave in those settings.

When I go to concerts, unless we have Donda’s House artists around, I will often decline backstage passes, or all-access badges because I’m not a fan of celebrity worship. When my husband and I are blessed to have people who are fans of his work, I often volunteer to take the picture, and no matter what we are thinking or feeling, we go out of our way to be accessible and to have conversations with people. We speak to every single person from the waiter, to the security, to the bartenders, because we believe that everyone matters and everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. We also believe and do not take for granted the fact that people DO NOT have to spend their money, or their time supporting us or the art.

As we find ourselves in more and more rooms with celebrities and as we ourselves feel our popularity increasing, we try to be very thoughtful about what it means to us individually, to our marriage and to the people that we love and cherish the most…

 

 

Stop Undervaluing Being An Employee!!!

I love Tony Gaskins but I hate this quote:

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In 2017, there is this perception that everyone should be an entrepreneur and I strongly disagree. Especially because people glamorize and have a misperception of what it means to be an entrepreneur.

People think becoming an entrepreneur means:

(1) I can get up when I want to.

(2) I can work when I want to.

(3) I don’t have to answer to anyone.

LIES!!! ALL LIES! or at least half-truths. When you start a company, it is one of the riskiest things you will do. There may be times when you don’t know where your next paycheck is coming from. There will be times when you have to cough up $5,000 or $10,000 that you didn’t have, and you will ALWAYS have to answer to someone (people with options who can take their time and their resources elsewhere).

In 2017, I believe that our culture undervalues being an employee. As an entrepreneur, there is nothing to me that is more valuable than people who share a similar outlook on the world, and that embrace the mission of Donda’s House. Donda’s House then, isn’t just my dream, it’s a collective dream. While I happen to be one of the co-founders of the organization, you can see the handprints and footprints of lots of individuals. You can see someone else’s ideas reflected in our programs. You can see someone else’s ideas reflected in our marketing and social media. You can see someone else’s ideas in how we train and orient our volunteers. You will hear people tell me when something is a bad idea or its the wrong timing.

As Donda’s House grows, I will be looking for people who can commit to Donda’s House for an extended period of time to help us reach our mission. Don’t get me wrong, I support entrepreneurship and I’m a huge advocate of entrepreneurs (especially women entrepreneurs) but I don’t think that everyone should be an entrepreneur. Just like I don’t think that everyone should be a teacher, a therapist or a writer. Many of the worlds largest organizations have thousands of employees. Facebook has 15,724 employees. Google has 57,000 employees. Microsoft has 94,000! Imagine if all of those people decided “I don’t want to build someone else’s dream…”

I also come across so many aspiring entrepreneurs who haven’t done the due diligence to really research their industry and fully develop products and services. If you are starting a business because you want to prove to some random person that you can, you’re going to have a hard time sustaining your business when you have challenges. If you’re starting a business because it’s something that you want to do, but there is no market (or you haven’t developed the market for it yet) you’re going to struggle, and someone that is more customer- or client- focused is not only going to catch up with you, but excel beyond you. Starting a business is about solving a problem and while it’s cool to be able to like (or even love) what you do, if you are not solving a problem that other people have, your business is going to have a hard time raising profit (or addressing a societal or public challenge if you’re in the nonprofit sector).

As Myleik Teele, one of my favorite podcasters & business women says you can be “entrepreneurial” in most settings. You don’t have to necessarily have your own business to have your professional goals and dreams realized. Now if you’re employed by a company that has a culture that you’re not a fan of, that’s one thing. If your ideas are never acted on or you don’t feel valued that’s another thing. Perhaps you don’t have the right employer. My hope is that we can stop acting like being anything other than the CEO, the Director, or the Chief, or the entrepreneur is any more valuable than being in HR, being an assistant or being the front desk manager. Very few companies can exist as single-person entities. As someone who has been on both sides of the fence and in many ways I still operate within other organizations as an advisor, as an assistant (for my husband’s Rhymefest brand) and as a workshop facilitator  – ALL of the roles, from the C-Suite to the maintenance staff are essential in creating a business’s success. Plus if you’re the CEO and you’re ranting and raving about how much better you are (because you’re in this leadership position) than others, it could lead to resentment and frustration with the other members of your organization who have to see & hear you dissing and undervaluing their contribution to the organization or company’s success.

One of the organizational leaders that I have great respect for, has had the same assistant for over 20 years. When it comes to the people that I hire, while I will gladly support those who need to make transitions for whatever reasons, I am hoping to hire people that want to make a long term – 10, 15 + year commitment to the mission so that we can push OUR collective vision forward.

Last Minute Gift Ideas

For The Travel Enthusiasts

Passport Holder and Luggage Tag via Nordstrom.

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For The Beauty Lover:

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I actually purchased a few of these Santa Tins filled with my favorite lush product: Bath Bombs! You drop the bath bomb into the bath and they create aromatic, skin-soothing/moisturizing magic. They are also made from all natural products! I’ve written about my obsession here. You can purchase the tins from Lush Cosmetics here.

For the Reader:

I came across this awesome app, that is the Netflix of Magazines! You pay a flat rate per month and get access to over 200 magazines! They are running a special right now, $10 for 3 months here.

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Nothing says I love you like some good, soft (expensive lol!) fabric.

For bedding, I’m a fan of Satin (whispers romance), Jersey Blends (screams relax) and Flannel (mouths warmth). You can pick these up at Target OR Bed, Bath & Beyond.

For public areas, I’m a fan of a good faux fur, a chunky knit, or cashmere. Consider purchasing a set of throw pillows or a throw blanket in either of those fabrics. You can pick these up at Target, Marshall’s, TJ Max and/or Home Goods. I recently picked up a nice throw that wraps around the body for like $40.00 from Marshalls. These are great because they serve as beautiful decor, but they are also functional. I change out fabrics. In the Spring/Summer, I have lightweight fabrics, in the Fall and Winter, I pull out the heavy stuff that keeps the cold away.

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This chocolate brown faux fur throw is available at Neiman Marcus.

The best gifts are those that are personalized. Think about what your friends and loved ones have been talking about lately.

Getting In Shape? – Consider purchasing a gym membership or a set of unique fitness classes.

Getting Organized? – Purchase a personal shopper for your friend who will come and audit his/her closet, or get a gift card to the Container Store.

Doing More Art? – Purchase art supplies or art classes for your friend at a local art store. JoAnns also offers a host of affordable art classes.

Starting a Business? – Purchase a legal consultation, or a Startup Book to let your friend or loved one know that you are with them 100%. You can also make a small investment in their business to show you care!

Think about recent conversations that you’ve had, and use that to whip up a personal gift in line with the wishes and goals of your beloved.