Essence Fest 2016 (What It Is)

I had the privilege of experiencing Essence magazine’s Essence Fest for the second time this past 4th of July weekend. It was simply everything. I saw some of my favorite artists perform like Mariah Carey, Babyface, and a new favorite, Jidenna. Yet, anybody who really knows me knows that seeing the one and only Maxwell perform again (my first time was back in 2009) and posing next to him for a picture just made not only my weekend, but my entire life. He epitomizes real musicianship, style, class, soul, and individuality in a way that is breathtaking to me. I’m still in shock that I was standing right next to him even if for only a few seconds!

Even though I’m a huge fan of Essence Fest and hope to attend as many times as I can while there is breath in my body, I understand how it could look to the highly critical among us, being that I’m one of them. There were times when I waited in line after line at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center during the humid, NOLA days when I wondered if it was all worth the hype. Was it all just a series of marketing ploys and self-promotion? There were celebrities autographing recent book and CD-releases. There were vendors selling all types of wares and southern-styled meals. There were major hair and beauty brands giving away samples—ranging from small trial-sized packets to full-sized bottles of products. Sure, there were various empowerment stages, speeches, and sessions but were all of those amazing messages drowned out in a sea of marketing and consumerism? Was there really more lying beneath the surface of superficiality?

You bet your bottom dollar there was! Let me breakdown exactly what Essence Fest is…

Essence Fest is drinking a cool glass of lemonade on a blazing summer day (the Beyoncé brand).

It is that gentle breeze underneath your sundress when you’re drenched in sweat.

It is what it feels like to come home (the Diana Ross in “The Wiz” version).

Where else on earth can you go to find hundreds of melanin-drenched people in one place where it’s not only acceptable, but required to embrace the uniqueness and beauty of African American culture? Where you can eat as much fried chicken, collard greens, and peach cobbler as you want without the guilt of feeling like a stereotype? Where there is no doubt that black lives always and will forever matter? In fact, the question is redundant because it’s a given. Essence Fest is a type of nirvana for African American women where everything about them—their unique experiences, interests, goals, passions, and beauty—are all validated, celebrated, appreciated, and understood.

Although I left Essence Fest 2015 rejuvenated as well, I experienced a whole other level of appreciation for the event this year because of the many changes in my life and in my own personal development over the past year. I have been brought down to the ashes of the person I once was after losing my son and dealing with other struggles in my personal life, but Essence Fest 2016 has given me even more courage to hand my ashes over to God in order to become reborn like a golden, blonde-haired phoenix (check out the new “do”).

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Chilling poolside on the rooftop of the Ace Hotel and having some amazing conversation on a day off from the hustle and bustle of Essence Fest events!

 

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What do you say to someone whose concert may be the reason why you and your spouse got married? You say the obvious, “I love your music so much!” and just cheese really hard.

 

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Uncle Charlie never disappoints and he almost bought me a $400,000 car! :-O

 

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The “My Black is Beautiful” booth gave away full-sized hair products, t-shirts, and printed photographs for those patient enough to wait in line for them.

 

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I loved everything about Jidenna when the “Classic Man” first came on the seen, but I have an even greater appreciation for him and his music after seeing him live in the intimate Ford “Hot Right Now” superlounge at the Superdome!

 

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Bishop T.D. Jakes talked about his upcoming talk show and almost started preaching before he stopped himself short! I don’t think anybody would’ve minded him going on, especially me. His ministry kept me going on many’a rough days recently!

 

 

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I loved the random celebrity sightings at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Eric Benet just strolled through with a few members of his crew/security.

 

 

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I grew up loving Mariah Carey’s music and Mimi did not disappoint. There was nothing like singing along to her hits and watching her in all her “diva-ness.”

 

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Another take-away from my Essence Fest weekend was a determination to finally check out Omari Hardwick in “Power.” The show was highly recommended by a new NOLA friend and even compared to “The Wire” so I’m intrigued.

Are Girls Sexualized Too Soon?

I don’t know if you all have read Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans, but it’s been on my “to-read” list for a while. (It was released back in 2010.) I’m still working through it, but the first short story, titled “Virgins,” really engaged me because it made me think about how sad it is that in most cases, it’s very hard for our children to not only hold on to their virginity, but to hold on to their innocence, for as long as they desire to. It seems that they are pressured from an early age to grow up as soon as possible—casting away things of childhood for more adult things.

In “Virgins,” Evans portrays a pair of 15 year-old girls in Mount Vernon, NY who are coming of age in a world where peer pressure and sex surround them in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Even though the narrator desires to make losing her virginity special, she avoids one situation of carelessly giving it away (and possibly being passed around to a few random guys she and her friend meet at a club) only to find herself in another random situation shortly afterwards when losing her virginity seems inevitable. I love the sad, but deep line, “…I did understand then that there was no such thing as safe, only safer; that this, if it didn’t happen now, would happen later but not better” (Evans 25).

The story really makes me think of how hard it is for young girls to hold onto childhood and innocence for as long as they desire to; instead, they are almost forced to let go of childish things when society or their peers tell them to. This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with maturing. We all have to grow and mature. This never stops. However, it seems more of a problem to me when we have kindergarteners wearing as much weave as 30-year-olds and preteen girls wearing clothes to their school dance that are more suitable for a 21+ club. What’s happening here? Why is it so uncool to look and act like a kid anymore?

Yours truly at 9-years-old

Yours truly at 9-years-old

I’ll never forget the moment when I first realized that it was no longer cool for me to play with dolls. My mom and I were in a hole-in-the-wall storefront fast-food place on the Westside of Chicago. I can’t remember how old I was, but I know that I definitely was not in my junior high years yet. Honestly, I don’t think that I was even 10 years old yet. If so, I was a fresh 10, but more likely 8 or 9-years old. I was standing next to my mom with my favorite doll in my hand when this perverted old man walks in looking at me crazy—with a slight hint of lust in his eyes. (I think every young girl knows that look that you can’t quite put a finger on, but you know it’s a look that a grown person shouldn’t be giving a child.) He makes a comment to my mom about how pretty I am and how it’s good she’s got me still playing with dolls.

I stood there thinking, “Wait a minute. What’s he trynna say?” After that moment, I felt a little more hesitant to take my doll places. I wondered if there was something wrong with me. Was I too old to play with dolls now? Did that make me a baby? At that time, I knew what sex was. I knew that I would get a period soon. I knew that my classmates would touch each other behind the coat closet in our classroom when the teacher wasn’t paying attention. I knew there were other girls that were more into boys than I was. Yeah, I had crushes, but some girls were more serious about boys, if you know what I mean. But, it wasn’t until that moment in the dingy-looking fried chicken spot that I started to really question if I was too far behind.

It’s a feeling that I dread for my daughter to have, but I know that it’s probably inevitable that she will. I just hope that when she’s ready to trade her dolls for nail polish and tinted lip gloss that it’s because she wants to and not because some stranger told her it was time.

Do you think there’s anything we can do about our kids growing up too fast? How do you think we should prepare them to confidently into their preteen/teenage years? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook! 😉

Feelin’ the Classic Man

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

So I don’t know about you all, but I’ve been on some chill ish lately. I’m all about keeping drama/negativity to a minimum and all about cool vibes right now.

Besides getting my crafty creative juices flowing by making my first batch of homemade lotion last weekend, I’ve been vibe-ing out to the music from the artists of Janelle Monae’s Wondaland Records music label–a “for artists by artists” record label. I was a little late getting acquainted to the awesomeness that is Janelle Monae, but now that I’m in the mix, I can’t get enough.

I especially can’t get enough of one of the newcomers under this music label, Jidenna. It’s one thing that his new single makes me want to dance in my seat, but I think that anytime we see a black man that’s talented, smart, and socially-conscious get some mainstream attention in the music world, there’s cause for twerkin’. He’s got this old school meets new school feel that I love. Plus he can flow and he graduated from Stanford University–he’s lucky I’m married. I love that his “Classic Man” style shows our youth a different image of black masculinity that’s cool, confident, and classy.

Check out his “Classic Man” video featuring Roman GianArthur below.

Doesn’t that video make you wish you were getting turnt at that party? Give me a party where you can let your hair down and not end up on the nine o’clock news and I’m there. I also just love the scene when he takes the teenagers that are about to get arrested back to school. Yasss. I appreciate the message about taking an interest in our youth and showing them a better way.

To get another taste of Jidenna’s rapping chops, check out this live video for his song, “Long Live the Chief.” One of the highlights from this video is definitely the line “Can’t spell but we know our instagrammar.” Preach. We all know our youth are on the struggle these days and I think more images of artists like Jidenna and Monae in mainstream music can be at least a small part of the solution.

Let me know your thoughts on Jidenna and this movement to spotlight more variety in the mainstream Pop/R&B/Hip-hop/Trap genres in the comments or on Facebook.

And because I love my popped people, I’m gonna throw in the epic new single by Ms. Monae featuring the “Classic Man” himself for your viewing pleasure. Get some “Yoga” in your life if you haven’t already 😉

Condemning the Baltimore Rioters is Not Enough

First off, I pray for peace in Baltimore today and throughout the rest of this week as the rioting comes to an end. I ask for the safety of all of the citizens of Baltimore and the law enforcement officers there. I hope that there’s healing in every way possible–mentally, emotionally, physically–as the city reacts to the unfortunate death of Freddie Gray and the decades if not centuries of tension and mistrust between the city’s residents and police officers.

As I went through my Facebook timeline today, there were plenty of people either questioning why people were rioting (usually non-blacks) or condemning the fools that were attacking police cars and looting (everyone).

I’m going to make it very clear that I agree that it’s ludicrous to destroy one’s on neighborhood to retaliate against the police or against any perceived injustice. It’s absolutely crazy to do things that will land you in jail and make your life even worse than it is now by looting merchandise. And it’s definitely pure insanity, if not suicide, to physically attack a police officer.

Yet, it’s constantly been on my mind lately that we’re living in a world where everyone is a critic, but few people are problem-solvers. It’s a lot easier to shake our heads and smack our lips in disgust, but a lot harder to get from behind our phones and find ways to engage people in our communities or communities less fortunate than ours.

Instead of only shaking our heads and condemning the foolishness of the rioters in Baltimore today, let’s think of ways that we can be a part of the solution to rebuild our communities, as well as rebuild the relationship between residents and the police.

  • Let’s start by being role models for our own kids. Let’s show them the type of people we want them to be instead of only telling them. Let’s learn from the mistakes of our parents and do better.

  • Take the time to mentor a youth that lives in a disadvantaged neighborhood.

  • Volunteer at an organization that offers kids options besides hanging on the streets.

  • Make an effort to know your neighbor.

  • Start a small business so that you can hire people that are typically shut out of the legal job market–teenagers, the formally incarcerated, people that used to be addicted to drugs, people with limited education or skills.

  • If you are a police officer, get to know the residents in your vicinity well-before you show up to arrest them.

  • Smile and say “hello” to a police officer and see if they will smile back.

  • Write letters to community or government leaders to petition more resources, programs, [you name it] for your community.

  • Save enough money for a down payment on a house in your neighborhood to invest in the community instead of keeping up with the latest outfits that the Joneses (or Johnsons) are wearing.

  • Vote.

Best of all, use your money to change the environment around you–support businesses that are employing people in the community. If you don’t see any black employees at your local beauty supply store, don’t shop there. Better yet, try to shop at black-owned businesses as much as you can (or start one!).

The world needs less critics and more action-takers. If you already take action to provide hope and opportunities to young men and women that feel like the world is against them (because often it is), I love you and applaud your efforts. Please go ahead and voice your dissent and shake your head. You are a force of change. But the rest of us need to STFU and do everything within our means to do something that causes less youth to feel hopeless enough to riot.

Today, as Baltimore heals, let’s also focus on healing other marginalized communities throughout the African diaspora.

Leave any comments below or on Facebook. I’d love to read your ideas for healing cities like Baltimore and communites throughout the U.S. that are full of rage due to the weight of systemic injustice (that honestly may never go away).

Don’t Fit Into Someone’s Mold, Make Your Own

I can’t exactly remember when I first stumbled on an article featuring Chantelle Winnie Brown-Young.

When America’s Next Top Model first came on, I wouldn’t dare miss an episode! However, I stopped watching long before they integrated guys with the girls. Maybe I stopped just because life happened; I can’t remember. So, I missed seeing Chantelle when she first appeared on the show during America’s Next Top Model Cycle 21. She is an extremely talented model who just happens to have vitiligo. I think everyone knows what vitiligo is due to the fact that Michael Jackson had this skin condition, but according to the Mayo Clinic, it is a skin disease that results in loss of skin color in blotches due to the death or malfunction of melanin cells.

Now 20, the skin condition was noticeable on Chantelle when she was only 4 years old. She struggled with being different when she was younger, but now she embraces her appearance. She’s an inspiration for anyone that is different, not just for those that have vitiligo (click here for her interview with the NY Post). She’s relatable to anyone that doesn’t fit the typical mold.

Here’s her audition tape for America’s Next Top Model Cycle 21 for those that may have missed it like me.

Even though I’m late to the party as usual, I’m so glad that I’ve discovered this beauty. Her outward appearance is beautiful, but more than that her honesty, confidence, and courage make her most beautiful. She’s proven to be more than a conqueror over people’s ignorance about vitiligo and is definitely positively optimistic and powerful!

See her in all her popped glory in the TedxTeen video below as she talks about beauty. Give it a watch! It’s only 6 and a half minutes.

Any thoughts to share? As always, hit me up in the comments or on Facebook! Ciao 😉

Jodeci and the Courage of the Comeback

I’m a firm believer that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams or start something new. I don’t think that there are any restrictions except for the ones we put on ourselves. We often are the only one standing in the way of us making a change. It’s always tough to stretch your neck out there unsure if you will succeed, but I imagine it’s even harder for a band like Jodeci who experienced enormous success during the early 90s’ New Jack Swing movement only to fade into near obscurity due to disbandment and drug/alcohol addiction. Imagine all the pressure and naysayers after coming back on the scene 20 years later! I’m a huge Jodeci fan and I give them major kudos for getting back in the saddle knowing that the music scene has changed so much since they left. I mean, you don’t even need to really know how to sing to have a hit record these days. I’m sure they know that their true fans will eat up whatever they put out there if it’s quality. I can barely remember the last time I bought an entire album, but they might make me hit up iTunes for this one. Let their comeback motivate you that no matter the obstacles and demons you have faced or still face, it’s never too late for a comeback!

Check out the video of their second single, “Every Moment.” This video is a bit dramatic just like their classic ones. I can dig it 😉

Also be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Bloglovin’. Keep it poppin’ folks.

Empire, Stereotypes, and the Search for Perfect Black People

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The Great Debaters

Oh no, last night, my husband and I were at it again. We had one of our heated debates. His eyes started bulging and my blood pressure shot up. This time it was about TV shows, specifically my fondness for Empire and Scandal. This particular debate started when I told him that I was just going to wait until today to catch up on the new episode of Empire instead of trying to watch it when I knew he and our daughter would distract me. He stopped clearing the dishes from the table, glared at me, and had the nerve to ask me a question that has been echoing in my head ever since, “How does someone like you that has this blog about female empowerment…how are you able to watch shows like Empire and Scandal? Shows about drug dealers and hoes?”

I looked at him and I think my mouth was open. Our 1 year-old daughter was sitting in her high chair looking from him to me, waiting for my answer. I told him that I think both shows are about more than what he described. I asked him to explain what he meant. During the twenty minutes that he talked about his thoughts first on Empire, then maybe another 10 minutes on Scandal, I did my best not to interrupt and to just listen even when certain things he said would make me want to jump out of my seat. He brought up some very good points. The best of the ones I can remember were:

1. Why is Empire on Fox network right before the 9 o’clock news? He argued that it’s not a coincidence that this happened. He said it is because the show portrays black people rapping, thugging, shooting, and killing and the news reinforces these things for the mostly conservative audience that watches Fox news.

2. Why does Empire have to center around a once-drug-dealer that builds a music company? He argued that the media pigeonholds successful black people into two major areas: sports and music. He said that he would like to see successful black people on TV that are not in these two fields.

3. Why does Olivia Pope [in Scandal] have to be the President’s hoe in order to be a leading character in a popular TV show? What kind of message is that sending our daughters? How does that show empower black women?

After I let him finish with almost everything he had to say, the first thing I told him is that I agree with him and I’ve thought about all of those things before. I told him that it does bother me that Empire is on the most anti-black network that I can think of. This rubs me the wrong way, especially considering the content of the show. However, I did tell him that I believe Empire is about more than drug-dealing and music. It is about family, relationships between brothers, mothers and sons, fathers and sons. It is about homophobia in the black community. It is about mental illness and the lack of discussion about it. The show seems to question the “ride-or-die chick” archetype that we love so much in the black community. Yes, we love Cookie’s character, but I hope I’m not the only one that sees no honor in going to jail for 17 years while your sons grow up without you. Not to mention the fact that her husband not only divorces her, but doesn’t bring the kids to see her and stops going to see her himself. Cookie is feisty and genuine, but flawed.

This idea of being a flawed character is what I spent most of my time talking about last night with my husband. I get frustrated because people are quick to get offended when black people on TV are flawed. We say that we want more positive black characters, but it seems like what we really mean by that is we want perfect, black characters. We want to portray black people as perfect on TV so that our white friends and coworkers won’t think that we are like the “bad” black people that they see on TV or on the news. This type of thinking doesn’t allow black people to be real, whole people in the media or in real life. This really bothers me because I feel like it affects black women the most. We applaud successful black women like Michelle Obama because she has achieved immense success and carries herself with grace. But don’t let her lose her temper or give a face full of attitude. If she does, the media and many racist people on social media will call her names that should never be uttered. She has to be perfect in order to be acceptable. She can’t show any attitude because she would then be validating the stereotype of the black woman with a bad attitude. Sure, you may say that this is because she’s the First Lady of the United States. Of course that has a great deal to do with it, but any black woman that has been in mostly non-black surroundings will tell you that there is more pressure on them to be perfect and keep it all together than their white peers. They carry the reputation of the race on their shoulders after all. This is the reason why I can watch shows like Scandal where the main character is my definition of a “boss” in every way: smart, wealthy, powerful, successful, stylish-yet she fails miserably in her love life by loving a married man. No, it is not ok, but she is not perfect. She has a major flaw, but this doesn’t negate all of her other positive attributes in my opinion. I believe that the day when black people can be whole people on and off the screen, flaws included, without the flaws being attributed to race, we have made progress.

watermelon book

Yes, I am black and I love watermelon. Is that a problem?

When it comes to the question of why a popular TV show featuring black people has to center around drug-dealing and rapping…I told my husband that sometimes we gotta be honest with ourselves. It may be a stereotype, but the creators of the show were not wrong that this type of storyline would be appealing to many people (not even just black people, Americans in general) because most people love a good gangster flick (Godfather, anyone?) and hip hop culture is becoming more and more mainstream than “black” it seems. The two together are a winning combination. Does it bother me sometimes that black people are relegated to sports and music? Yes. Do blacks dominate in those fields? Yes! They do and I’m tired of acting like there is something wrong with that. Of course, black people are talented in all areas and this should be portrayed more, but I’m not offended that the show puts its characters in these two fields.

Towards the end of our debate, my husband brought up the fact that everyone won’t separate fact from fiction, stereotype from reality like I do when I see shows like Empire or Scandal. It is true that it will reinforce to some people that black people are only good at rapping, singing, and being a side-piece. However, I believe that people that truly feel this way are going to look for anyway they can to reinforce those prejudiced beliefs. It is the reason why Seattle Seahawks player, Richard Sherman, was called a “monkey,” “nigger,” amongst other things when he talked passionately to a reporter after winning the Superbowl last year. Nevermind that he is both a phenomenal athlete and Ivy-league educated. Some people will use any excuse to dehumanize him. The same is true for President Obama. He is the epitome of class, intelligence, and success but if he does one thing that people deem out-of-order, he is every racist slur ever stated or written. I, personally, am tired of being enslaved to staying inside of the “good black person” box in order to gain and keep acceptance from our white-dominated society and I don’t mind if my favorite TV characters are outside of this box as well.

I will leave you all by stating that the last episode of Empire did leave me with some not-so-good feelings. One of which was the joke made by DeRay Davis’ character about the “cute, light-skinned girl.” I was thinking, “Please stop with the light skin/dark skin colorism crap. It’s not funny.” Another uncomfortable aspect was the entire music video shoot with the scantily clothed video girls. I have to say that I am torn. I see the major flaws that at times seem to overshadow the more redemptive qualities, but then it’s like I just can’t stop watching. I’m all for more positive black characters in TV and film, but I am known to indulge in my share of ratchet every now and then (Real Housewives of Atlanta, anyone?) What can I say? I am by no means perfect.

What are your thoughts about shows like Empire and Scandal? Do you think the success of these shows do the black community more harm than good? Share in the comments or on Facebook.