Musings from My Younger Self | I Can Be Me!

“Coneflowers” by Kayla W.

While talking to a colleague a few days ago, I happened across a poem I wrote when I was about 16. I shared a few lines with her and she was “impressed” that I was thinking about something other than boys and getting away from my parents’ rules. I told her I’d share the poem on the blog today, but it requires more typing than I can handle at the moment, so I chose a much shorter “teenage” poem–one that is nothing like the other poem.

I Can Be Me!

In a poem
I can be anyone
I want to be.
I can do
what I want to do
when I want to do it.
I can lose painful feelings to memory
and rejoice in my misery.
I can escape
and travel to ageless worlds.
I can create a world of my own
and destroy reality.
In a poem,
dreams are reality
and yesterdays are forgotten.
Tomorrows never come.
Today is forever.
In a poem
I can be a philosophical moron
or a simple intellectual.
In a poem
I can be anyone
I want to be;
I can even be me!

It has been almost two years since I shared a “younger self” poem! I find a lot of the poems rather “cringey,” to use my son’s word. But there are a hundreds of them, so I’ll try to get over myself and share them a bit more frequently.


About the Image: The cheerful artwork above is the work of my colleague, Kayla W–the person referenced in the conversation about my teenage poetry. She recently learned she’s an artist. 😉 Even if you find my poem cringey [too], please show Kayla some bloggy love. ❤

First Day: The New Academy, Hell, and Miracles

My favorite building on campus

Forgive me for what is sure to be a rambling, pointless blog post. Despite my weariness, I promised myself I would write a post today because Microblog Mondays are part of my normal. I need as much normal as I can get these days.

For many complex reasons, my university decided to offer in-person instruction, but students have the option to attend virtually. Today was the first day of classes. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I met students in my office via ZOOM instead of in a classroom. Only a couple of my students are back on campus for in-person instruction. The others are learning from their homes because neither they nor their parents are comfortable with the still rising [COVID-19] numbers.

There’s so much more to think about during these COVID times. There are so many ways of navigating academic life that has been remapped. We wear masks and face shields; place protective shields on our desks; check temperatures and sanitize our hands when we enter buildings; we carry gloves, hand sanitizer, extra masks, and disinfectant spray; we are overly conscious of our hands and face; we remind students to “stay back” the magic distance of six feet—no hugs for those beautiful ones we haven’t seen in five months; we teach fewer students in instructional spaces and try to construct our courses so the students build connections through the digital divide.

To make matters even more interesting–here we are in the hottest part of a southern summer, and the air conditioner in our almost 80-year-old building decided to go on strike. So 95 degrees outside. 105 inside while wearing a mask. I had a taste of hell today.

Strange start to the academic year after an odd too-long/too-short summer. In these first moments, getting through [another] COVID semester seems impossible, but I keep reminding myself, the impossible gives birth to miracles.

Guest Post | “Hear Me Roar” by Liv Grace

Today’s guest post for our series on living Black in the United States was written by up-and-coming performance phenom, Liv Grace. Liv Grace graduated from high school a couple of weeks ago, and she is already making her mark in this world. In this post, she shares a little about her music journey and her song and music video, “Hear Me Roar,” which she wrote in protest  of police brutality and racial injustice in the USA. Be sure to watch the video. 


Yoooooo! My name is Liv Grace, and amongst many other things I am a singer, songwriter, and producer. I’ve always been a lover of music and the arts. I’ve loved making music, writing, and editing films since the day I found out my Nintendo 3DS had a video camera. I started writing poetry and fictional stories around the fifth grade. I’ve been singing in choirs since I was really young. I’ve harmonized on praise teams all throughout middle and high school, and I’ve been “belting it out” in school musicals for the past five years.

What I love most about music is its ability to bring people together and make them feel something. A simple melody has the power to make us feel a plethora of emotions and a lyric can help us see the world through someone else’s eyes. I’ve always loved the feeling I get when I listen to music and I like being able to give that feeling to others.

I’ve always been composing harmonies. I remember watching a video of young Ariana Grande when I was in middle school singing into a microphone connected to a guitar looping pedal, layering harmonies and singing over it. I was mesmerized, and immediately I knew I had to try it. Unfortunately, my middle school allowance was not large enough to purchase a professional guitar looper and trying to convince my parents to purchase a $100 guitar looper for me—a twelve-year-old with no guitar—was surprisingly difficult. I decided to do the next best thing and downloaded a free beatbox looping app on my phone. I picked a random song from my iTunes playlists, listened to it on repeat and recreated the instrumental with only my voice on loop. My obsession with arranging and recreating harmonies ran wild from there. I found myself recreating Broadway cast albums and singing all of the parts. I’d post small clips of me harmonizing with myself and singing covers on Instagram.

In my junior year of high school, I decided it was time to start creating my own music. This was daunting, yet exciting. Ironically, around that same time my dad, brother, and I stumbled across a space connected to the Hirshhorn Museum called ARTLAB+. That space literally changed my life. In fact, the only reason I actually completed my very first song was because I needed it to apply and audition for one of their arts programs. I was accepted, but didn’t go in with high hopes. I showed up, I sang it, and they loved it! It was at that moment that I realized this thing I’d been doing as a therapeutic hobby was something I was actually good at! I’ve been writing melodies, producing instrumentals, and composing harmonies ever since.

Liv Grace. Photo provided by the artist.

At the beginning of the shelter-in-place [to flatten the curve of COVID-19], there was a moment when nobody in the US knew what was going on or how to deal with it. My school extended our spring break while administrators and teachers worked on an action plan, so there was this huge chunk of time in which I was able to focus on things that made me happy. I’d started a music account on Instagram earlier in the year, but rarely posted on it due to lack of time. Now, I had what felt like all the time in the world!

Like many others, I began to use this surplus of time to focus on things that I genuinely enjoy and to learn new things. I finally had enough time to pour into one of my passions—music. I started actively posting on Instagram and from this the opportunity arose through ARTLAB+ to share my creative process as a teen artist in collaboration with the Nicholson Project, an artist residency program.

Liv Grace. Photo provided by the artist.

A couple days into the process [and after I’d written a song on mental health for the project], the video of George Floyd’s murder took over all forms of media. It wasn’t the first time I’d watched my people carelessly shoved to the ground by law enforcement. Every time a video comes across my feed, my heart aches, but watching George groan in pain as he yelled for his mother was the last straw. I knew I needed to use my gift to speak out. I decided my mental health song could wait and began writing “Hear Me Roar.”

When it comes to creating, I overthink everything. I spend hours writing and rewriting, trying to find the right drum pad or the perfect harmonies to accent, but with “Hear Me Roar” everything just flowed so organically. The song just came to me. The chorus popped into my head as I was soaking in a bubble bath. The next day I sat and wrote two verses, a pre-chorus, a chorus, and arranged backing vocals in one sitting.  The next day I produced the instrumental and just continued tweaking throughout the week until the song was finished. I let it breathe for a little bit, listened to it about a week later and called it a wrap.

The song was done, and I loved it.

A little after the song was finalized, I decided I wanted it to be released with a music video, so I grabbed my video camera and my dad’s mini projector and pushed my bed to the other side of my room. Over a couple days I filmed, directed, and produced the video.

“Hear Me Roar” is the song I needed to hear as we mourned the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all the other Black people who lost their lives to police brutality. I needed a song that would remind me no matter how hard anybody tries, they cannot silence my voice.

We often see the tragedies and the news and feel hopeless, like our voices don’t matter. But they do! Not only do they matter, our voices have the power to move mountains and make change in the world. My hope is that “Hear Me Roar” can remind people how powerful their roars are and that they should use them to speak out on issues that matter to them. Right now, we are in great need of change and if we use our individual and collective voices, we can make that happen!

“Hear Me Roar” is available to stream on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Tidal, Amazon Music, Google Play Music, Youtube Music, Deezer, and Napster! It is also available to purchase on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play Store. You can find links to all of these stores here:

A percentage of the proceeds from “Hear Me Roar” will be donated to the ARTLAB+ program.  Individuals involved in the program devote their lives to uplifting and amplifying the voices of young artists of color and provide us with equipment, professional guidance, and a loving environment to express ourselves in our own creative and unique ways. I want to help the program give the opportunities they’ve given to me to other young Black artists.

You can find me and more of what I’m up to here:

We need your voice to create change, so keep roaring!

Liv Grace. Photo provided by the artist.

#GoodTrouble

John Lewis, after arrest in Mississippi, 1961. He served 37 days in Parchman Penitentiary for ‘disorderly conduct”–using a restroom reserved for whites.

When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation, a mission, and a mandate to stand up, to speak up and speak out, and get in the way, get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble [and help redeem the soul of America].  –Congressman John Lewis (February 21, 1940-July 17, 2020).

Guest Post | “‘Naming’ Our Grief” by Chanté Enu

It is not unusual for artists to use their work as a platform against social injustice, so it is not surprising that we have seen a resurgence of social justice art since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many artists have used Instagram to share their messages. 

My former student, Chanté Enu [formerly known as Chanté Marie]–singer, songwriter, and artist–contributes to the dialogue. Her social justice artwork, which she has begun to post on Instagram, reminds us to “say the names” of those who have succumbed to police violence.

For today’s post on living Black in the United States, she shares a piece from her series, Voices Mourning in Protest and a little about the motivation behind its creation. 


This piece is a tribute to the many Black individuals whose lives were taken by the police. I added names to the canvas in hopes that while viewing this composition people will say their names and remember:

George Floyd. Jamar Clark. Timothy Thomas. Danroy Henry Jr. Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Artago Damon Howard. Jeremy Lett. Lavall Hall. Thomas Allen. Charly Leundeu Keunang. Naeschylus Vinzant. Tony Robinson. Anthony Hill. Bobby Gross. Brandon Jones. Eric Harris. Walter Scott. Frank Shephard. William Chapman. David Felix. Brendon Glenn. Kris Jackson. Spencer McCain. Victor Emmanuel Larosa. Salvado Ellswood. Darrius Stewart . Albert Joseph Davis. Samuel DuBose. Christian Taylor. Asshams Pharoah Manley. India Kager. Keith Harrison McLeod. Junior Prosper. Anthony Ashford. Bennie Lee Tignor. Jamar Clark. Nathaniel Harris Pickett.

The list goes on.

The focal point of this piece is a black woman in mourning. She represents the heaviness of the grief and loss many of us feel.

My prayer is that we expel the monsters of apathy and disconnect that plague our nation and invoke genuine feelings of connectedness through our collective grief over the loss of these lives.

Through this piece, I hope people understand that it is our responsibility to speak up, to advocate, to say their names, to protest injustice, to deeply care about the injustices against Black lives.

Summoned Mother | Tameka Cage Conley

All mothers were summoned, when George Floyd called out for his mother. —Rachel Costa

Every mother heard him. We heard George Floyd. We hear him. —Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo who was murdered by New York City police officers in 1999.

For today’s post on living Black in the United States, I invite you to view a three-part series presented by the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art. The project features Dr. Tameka Cage Conley, an artist I initially met many years ago when she was a student–an English major, of course. 😉 I am so very proud of her and her work.

The museum describes the “Summoned Mother” series as:

a memoir of a particular American motherhood: Black and uniquely precarious. This three-volume video series features Dr. Tameka Cage Conley, a literary artist and mother to a six-year-old Black boy, as she responds to George Floyd’s breathless call on motherhood. Conley juxtaposes the works of Elizabeth Catlett with those of contemporary Black poets, bridging the visual and literary arts in a meditation of Black artistry’s longstanding eye on injustice.

Dr. Tameka’s masterful weave of poetry, art, story, and song achingly reaches that primordial place in all mothers that compels us to protect, to rescue, to do something.

The project was spearheaded by Kwadwo Nnuro; the entire series is approximately 42 minutes in length.


About the image: The image that leads today’s post features a favorite photo of my son and me–modified for the post.

Other posts in the “Black Lives Matter” Monday series:

Breathe | Two Poems

I do not have a guest post today. Instead, I offer two poems written [by Toi Derricotte and Ross Gay] in response to the murders of George Floyd and Eric Garner. Both men uttered the words, “I can’t breathe” before they died at the hands [or feet] of police officers.

Why I Don’t Write About George Floyd [2020]
Toi Derricotte

Because there is too much to say
Because I have nothing to say
Because I don’t know what to say
Because everything has been said
Because it hurts too much to say
What can I say what can I say
Something is stuck in my throat
Something is stuck like an apple
Something is stuck like a knife
Something is stuffed like a foot
Something is stuffed like a body

***     ***     ***

A Small Needful Fact [2015]
Ross Gay

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.


About the image: I shot [and edited] the photo above about 5 years ago while on one of my campus photo walks. A few days after George Floyd’s murder the photo “resurfaced” while I was looking through my archives for a different photograph.

Guest Post | “Safer in War Zones” by Steven Beckford

Today we continue our series of perspectives on #BlackLivesMatter, racism, police violence, and living Black in the United States.  Today’s post was written by Steven Beckford, someone I’ve known since he was a tiny tot. He has served in the United States Air Force for more than 15 years. Here, Steven provides a sobering perspective on what it means to serve a country that does not value him as person because of the color of his skin.

***   ***   ***

Because I serve in the United States Armed Forces, people have been asking me how I feel in light of everything that has been going on, so here are my thoughts. [Please note: These are my individual views as a citizen of the USA who happens to serve his country].

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Stephon Clark, Bothan Jean, Philando Castille, Alton Sterling, Michelle Cusseaux, Freddie Gray, Tanisha Fonville, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Charles Kinsey, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin.

This is a small number of incidents that occur too frequently as it relates to Black lives and police brutality.

When people protest police violence against Blacks peacefully and respectfully too often the mainstream narrative becomes about patriotism or the American flag.  Think about Colin Kapernick. Although his “taking a knee”–a respectful posture–was about resisting police brutality, far too many people twisted the issue and made it about disrespecting the flag.

I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana. My mother’s side of the family is from Mississippi. Growing up I thought being called the n-word was normal. I thought that being mistreated by the cops was normal. I found myself handcuffed and ankle-shackled at times just because I was driving a car that didn’t fit the supposed Black stereotype, so cops assumed I had drugs on me. I have been denied entry into stores with my friends because we were Black. The assumption was that we might steal something, so we had to go in one at a time to be better “monitored.” I have been a passenger while my older sister was pulled over. I have had to watch police berate her and call her a Black b**** for literally no reason at all.

Despite all of that, I joined the military. I served and continue to serve with honor. However, when I turn on the news, I see how people care more about the perception of unity than actual unity. When I go into a store in uniform, I am treated kindly; when I go to same store in civilian clothes, I am treated with far less than respect.

I have felt safer in actual war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan than I have in America. Why? Because there I know who is trying to kill me and I can actually defend myself. In the United States it’s hard to know who an actual enemy is.

I am a member of the United States Air Force serving my country proudly, but I am apprehensive about returning to the U.S. not just to live, but even to visit.

I not only have to watch people who could be me, my brother, my sisters, my mother, and friends die needlessly but I am also forced to witness different treatment for whites.  We all witnessed it. Think about Dylan Roof.  This white guy went into a Black church, prayed with the congregation, opened fire and actually killed nine people, and was then taken for a meal before being taken to prison.

I am sad, angry, and tired of this. Because of the response to George Floyd’s murder, people say “this time is different” and have hope that America will change. I am not sure I’m as hopeful.  I’ve heard that before. How many “this times” do we need? Someone can call the cops on me while I’m out birdwatching and all they have to say is that I am Black. That’s a near death sentence for me–a death sentence because cops responding to the scene will automatically treat me as a threat that should be and can be put down with little to no consequences. If you do not believe me, research the names mentioned above, and look at the penalty for most of the officers.

This isn’t just about the killings.

This is about honoring confederate leaders, people who wanted to keep Black people enslaved. There is no Fort Pol Pot, no Hitler Air Base. It is in America that we honor those who wished to oppress.

This is about a national anthem for which we cannot even sing the full song, because of lines such as: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave’/From the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave.”

I am just tired… I am tired of all of this… I am not here pleading for special rights… I am not asking for the considerations that America has given to the Japanese after placing them in internment camps during World War II.  I am not even asking for the benefits that America has given to the Native Americas… I want the guarantees and rights that are supposed to come with being an American. I want to be treated equal.

Can America just give me that?

Photo by Tammyatwt on Pixabay

Guest Post | “Four Wishes” by Donna Akiba Harper

When I wrote Dear Friend, my response to systemic oppression and violence against black bodies, at the beginning of the month, I did not plan to write or post about the subjects again, but frankly, it has been difficult to think about anything else–especially when here we are in the same situation less than two weeks later. 

Many of my friends have been sharing their thoughts and reflections via Facebook and Instagram posts, so I decided to use my “Microblog Mondays” [until further notice] to share some of their perspectives on #BlackLivesMatter, racism, police violence, and living Black in the United States.

Last week I shared a friend’s garden reflection/analogy. For todays’s post Dr. Donna Akiba Harper, a colleague and friend, who lives in the Atlanta area, shares her thoughts on police violence. The exasperated tone of her piece echoes my own feelings.  [This is an excerpt of her post]

***     ***     ***

Rayshard Brooks should not be dead. With all the protests in Atlanta, all over the nation, and all over the world because of the killing of black men, women, and children, why? Why did [now Former Officer] Garrett Rolfe shoot with deadly force? Was he trying to incite violence? There was no reason to use deadly force. Those of us who are not experts are not alone in this thinking. Florida Rep. Val Demings, a former Police Chief who is now in Congress, doesn’t see why deadly force was used against Rayshard Brooks.

In regards to the situation we find ourselves in over and over again:

  1. I wish people would STOP calling the police for everything. We should have teams  of social workers/psychologists who can be called in situations that involve people who are not “committing a crime.” A man running naked through an apartment complex (Anthony Hill) has other issues. A man who is sound asleep in the drive-thru lane of a Wendy’s (Rayshard Brooks) has other issues. I wish we would stop depending on the police to handle everything!!! We don’t need them for non-criminal acts. We need trained social workers/ psychologists.
  2. I wish police would consider the circumstances when they are called. If the “crime” is passing a fake $20 bill (George Floyd) or selling loose cigarettes (Eric Garner), that’s petty. Write a citation! There’s no need to arrest someone for any of those petty “violations.” Thus, there can be no “resisting arrest.”
  3. I wish there would be no more “no knock” warrants. Ever! Anywhere! If the folks who want to “open” cities and states in the era of COVID-19 can walk around outside with huge guns–but that’s no cause for alarm?–how is the “suspicion” of drugs or weapons inside a home enough reason to break into someone’s home at night? Breonna Taylor and Kathryn Johnston were killed by police breaking into the wrong home!!! They should not have died that way!
  4. I wish there would be no more chokeholds or knees on necks, ever! In fact, I wish police would use deadly force only as a last resort–in response to deadly force being used against them. Overall, vast training in de-escalation needs to occur, within police forces AND within the general public. We all need to learn strategies to reduce the anger and violence that so often erupts–in domestic situations and in public, and especially with police. I wish we would learn better ways to deal with everything.

I plan to contact my local police precinct to ask about these things. I figure if we all get busy with local issues and if we press our U.S. Representatives and Senators to pass federal laws, we can bring lasting change.

Things absolutely have to change.

Guest Post| “A Garden Reflection” by Danille Taylor

We are each other’s
harvest:
we are each other’s
business:
we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Photo by Photo AC on Pixabay

Today’s post was written by my colleague and friend, Dr. Danille Taylor. She wrote this reflection after working in her garden and seeing the connection between her work and the work in which we must all engage to undo the isms that are destroying humanity.
***
***.   .  ***.   .  ***
***
I was in the garden yesterday in 90 degree heat digging out weeds. I put a perennial bed in an area where the builder planted bamboo. I contracted to have soil and new plants put in. It was much too much work for my new knees, but the bed wasn’t prepped properly. The bamboo is tenacious! I can neither stomp it out nor can I use poison because of the new plants. I have to dig down and extract the roots. This is tedious back-bending work that requires the right tools so as not kill the new plants–my beauties. I may have to keep weeding for years to rid the garden of the bamboo, but as the gardener, it is my responsibility to protect my beauties. If I get lazy or forget, the bamboo will take over again.
***
Ridding this world of all the ‘isms, greed, and inequities requires that we all be gardeners. There is no quick medicine or vaccine. There is only consistent, diligent, hard, and loving work to destroy the roots. But we have to have the right tools.

Each period requires old and new tools, but we must understand the old to be effective now. The energy of Black youth has brought us to this moment much as it did fifty years ago. They are railing at the bamboo that has them in a chokehold.
***
If need be, we’ll plant a new garden and properly prepare the bed making sure the soil is rich and nurturing. No poisons allowed. We must remember the “bamboo” may still be there, so we’ll have to be diligent in identifying and uprooting it. We have knowledge and lessons of the past and tools of the future. We will sweat. But the wonderment and beauty we cultivate will feed us. As we weed and dig to extract roots we must not lose our joy.  We see the beauty of the garden we are cultivating.
***
Live, breathe, love, and work.

Photo by Photo Mix on Pixabay