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.

Guest Post: Pink Letter by Aaron Miles

It’s 17 days until my husband and I will participate in the March of Dimes March for Babies in honor of the life and death of our son Izzy who passed away on January 25, 2016 due to bilateral renal agenesis, a fatal birth defect when a baby lacks kidneys. I’m pushing myself to write and post on the blog each day until the walk—some days a little and maybe some days a lot—in hopes of shedding light on issues like miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss so that other women who go through these types of things know that they’re not alone. Please share this post generously to spread awareness!

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Tonight I decided to give my wife a break and contribute to her daily post leading up to the March of Dimes walk. Although I struggled to find a topic, I decided to talk about my wife and how she is such an inspiration to me.

I was fortunate enough to meet Carla during my senior in college. I was finishing up my last semester at UIC and when I was invited to attend the UIC fashion after party at Harold Washington Culture Center. My best friend Elijah was meeting a friend at the party and he wanted me to go and play third wheel. To be completely honest, the party was boring and lame (do they still use that word 🙂 ) I stood there looking at my phone and updating my Facebook status. It was not until the end of the party that something got my attention. Elijah hooked up with the friend he came to meet and she happen to bring her friend, which was Carla. Sitting in this Toyota corolla, was this beautiful fair skinned woman that I had to meet. I approached the driver side of the window and introduce myself in my deep voice. “Hi, my name is Aaron”. She cited her name was Carla. We fell immediately fell into a lively conversation about each other.  What really struck me about the conversation was that she was extremely intelligent and engaging. She was well-versed in politics, faith, music, and understanding her dreams. I realize then that I made a right choice in going to that party that night. We decided to exchange numbers and coordinate a date.

As I finished my last semester, we connected time to time over text message and email. It wasn’t until early summer after graduation that I decided to ask her out on a date. I picked her up on a Saturday afternoon and went out on the town. What really struck me was how vested she was in me and liking me for who I was. I coined that summer “Black Summer nights” In our honor of our favorite album that year by Maxwell. It was summer, in which I really felt alive and at peace with someone that really cared for me. I was finally with someone who wanted to love me for who I was. With the financial crisis 2008, finding a job was very difficult. Majority of the summer, I struggled and battled to find work. I remember Carla was on a study abroad trip in London, England and she sent me a letter on Facebook encouraging me and that better days will be ahead. I remember her texting me before countless job interviews and giving me a dose of hope. She always has and will continue to support me in my endeavors.

After a couple of years, we decided to get married. As I look back on this day, I realize that I found the greatest thing that ever happen to me. Carla means so much to me in my life. She is a wonderful wife and goes above and beyond the call for duty. She does such a fantastic job caring for our 2 year old daughter as well as her 29 year old husband 🙂 The most powerful vowel is for better and for worse. Carla and I has shared our moments of triumphs and tragedy. The loss of Israel, was a tragedy that is very difficult to overcome. Through it all, we learn to continue to get closer to God and each other. It is our divine order to become stronger, wiser, and better in God. Overall, I appreciate the journey with Carla and look forward to continue to the travel the roads less traveled with the love of my life.

My family and I would love for you to donate to our March for Babies campaign! Any amount no matter how small may help other families of premature infants. Click here and know that we’re so thankful for you!

1,440 Minutes

It’s 26 days until my husband and I will participate in the March of Dimes March for Babies in honor of the life and death of our son Izzy. I’m pushing myself to write and post on the blog each day until the walk—some days a little and maybe some days a lot—in hopes of shedding light on issues like miscarriage and infant loss so that other women who go through these types of things know that they’re not alone. Please share this post generously to spread awareness!

Sade said to “Cherish the Day,” but I would go so far as to say “cherish the minute.” A day is full of 24 hours, which is 1,440 minutes. I may have only gotten about 15 minutes or so with Izzy while he was still breathing so he taught me that each minute is invaluable.

I remember the delivery doctor saying, “One more push will do it.” I took a deep breath and pushed on the exhale and there he was. I didn’t know he was a he until my doctor with the big poufy twist-out (yes, I had hair envy even in the delivery room) quickly looked between Izzy’s legs and said that this long, wrinkly baby was my son. I looked at my husband. He looked at me. And for a few long seconds it seemed like the whole room held its breath to see if we would hear anything from Izzy. His heartbeat wasn’t being monitored during the delivery because the medical team thought it might be too stressful for me if I heard the baby’s heart become distressed (or stop altogether) during the delivery. But after those long, uncomfortable seconds, we heard Izzy’s shrill little cry. He only cried out once, then it was silent again. He wasn’t anything like his older sister who just wailed and wailed when she was born, making it fully known that she was indeed born and not at all happy about it (but that was already evident by the fact that she was born nearly 2 weeks after her due date).

No, Izzy was calm and quiet. He kept his big, round eyes closed as I held him close and told him all about his big sister and all of her stuffed animal friends. I knew in those moments with him that I had to be completely present because I didn’t have long with him. I had to tell him I loved him then because I didn’t know how many times I would get to tell him. I had to sing “twinkle, twinkle little star” to him then because I didn’t know how many other opportunities I would have to sing to him. I learned the value of each minute from trying to hold on to that time with him. A minute can be a long time if we really focus on it and give it the treatment it deserves.

So now when I have a bunch of things on my mind or things that I’m trying to do around the house, I try to remember to slow down and read when Izzy’s big sister, the Wailer, asks me to read her “Close Your Eyes” book for the millionth time or asks me to help her build a train with her Duplo Legos–help meaning build it for her. I try to remember what’s really important—each minute that we have on earth and with the people we love and who love us because we don’t know how many more minutes we’ll get.

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Izzy’s big sister, the Wailer 😉

 

My family and I would love for you to donate to our March for Babies campaign! Any amount no matter how small may help other families of premature infants. Click here and know that we’re so thankful for you!

How Losing My Baby Strengthened My Faith

It’s 27 days until my husband and I will participate in the March of Dimes March for Babies in honor of the life and death of our son Izzy. I’m pushing myself to write and post on the blog each day until the walk—some days a little and maybe some days a lot—in hopes of shedding light on issues like miscarriage and infant loss so that other women who go through these types of things know that they’re not alone. Please share this post generously to spread awareness!

I have always been a bit of a doubting Thomas (see John 20:24-29) throughout much of my Christian walk. I didn’t grow up going to church or in a Christian home. My dad was a skeptic of Christianity, maybe even agnostic, and my mother believes that all church folk are hypocrites (which half the time we are—let’s keep it real here). Considering the disbelief of my family and me being critical and analytical by nature, it surprised my parents, and even myself at times, when I became a Bible-toting and fervent believer of God in the middle of my high school years. Even though I had periods when I felt like I was “on fire for God” as church folk say, I had my moments of doubt, especially when times got really hard. I even considered myself an “ex-Christian” for a while after my dad died from cancer in 2008. I graduated from my small, conservative Christian college depressed, disillusioned, and wondering if I’d wasted the last 4 years of my life getting a liberal arts education.

Israel collage 4x4 memorial pic with name and PBWB websiteBut (there’s always a “but” in a testimony) on January 25, 2016, my baby boy, Israel “Izzy” Miles, died from a birth defect called bilateral renal agenesis (known as BRA or Potter’s Syndrome) and I had no choice but to cling to God and trust Him. I felt powerless and lost—like my heart was literally ripped from my chest, stomped on, and shattered in a million pieces. I can’t imagine any pain that was worse than delivering a baby that I carried for 33 weeks and 4 days, spending just a few precious minutes with him, and having to leave his beautiful, little body at the hospital and go home with nothing but a memory box and the blanket he was wrapped in to show for it. I felt like a part of me died. And it did. I will never be the same person that I was before this happened, but I’m learning that that’s ok.

You may ask, “how could you believe in God more after losing a child when you had doubts before?” The answer is…real trials and tribulations reveal what you’re really made of and I realized how weak and how powerless I really am when I could do nothing to save my son’s life. I am a woman that needs a relationship with God. There’s no other way that I can go with life after watching my very first son take his last breath in my arms and not believe and trust in a Being higher than myself. Over the last several weeks, there were moments when I didn’t want to live, times when I hated everything and everybody, times when I didn’t know how I would make it through the night because the emotional pain was so strong. There were times when I was so angry, pissed really, at God that I wanted to scream and break everything in sight.

Yet through all of the pain, I realized that He was with me in a way that nobody else could ever be. As anyone who has suffered from miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss knows (and I’ve been through 2 of the 3 within the span of 12 months), it can feel like you are completely alone and nobody understands or cares about what you’re going through. Family and friends that have never experienced it (and even some that have) often don’t know what to say or do to comfort you so they distance themselves. They may not say or do anything. Or they may say things that hurt you even more, making you feel like someone is pouring salt on your open wounds. Or they may not do as much to support you as you think they should or as much as you feel like you would do if the shoe was on the other foot. It was the times when I felt like I had no one else to turn to and I managed to not lose my mind that I knew that God was carrying me through it all.

2 Corinthians 1 3 and 4 for the blogEven in my questioning of why this happened to me (and even why there are so many horrible things happening in the world every second), I know that God is alive and still working. I’ve met people who knew about what happened to me and opened up about their own loss and felt comforted because they felt like they had no one else that would understand. I’m a firm believer now that God allows us to go through the most challenging circumstances to show us that we need Him and so that we can support others that go through the same things we have, but feel alone. Lord knows I don’t wish infant loss on anyone, not even my worst enemy, but I appreciate that it is now when I feel so completely broken that I’m witnessing the miracle of God putting the pieces back together, strengthening my convictions and my faith.

My family and I would love for you to donate to our March for Babies campaign! Any amount no matter how small may help other families of premature infants. Click here to donate and know that we’re so thankful for you!

Happy New Year from the PBWB!

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Happy New Year from the Popped Black Woman Blog!

Don’t you love the sense of promise and hope that’s in the air at the start of a new year. Yet, we all know that mid-January/February rolls around and many of us still feel stuck in a rut and forget about all the new habits and plans we had for the new year. Let’s not let that be us this year. Let’s make a realistic ambitious plan for 2016 that includes deadlines and monthly/quarterly goals to help us stay on track.

For me, my biggest project will probably be setting a solid foundation for by new business, Popped Handmade, and really turning it into a “business” (as in having profits and such lol). It’s only been about 2 months since my first vendor fair when I burst out my handmade whipped body butters at a school where I used to work. It seems like ages ago because I’ve learned so much since then. But, at the same time the amount of work that needs to be put in, the knowledge and experience that needs to be gained, and the contacts that need to be made in order to turn this thing into something that really makes an impact for my family and for social causes that are important to me are almost overwhelming at times. However, that overwhelming feeling lets me know that I’m going to have to grow in faith in order to surpass the challenges in front of me.

In fact, 2015 has been so challenging as far as believing in myself and trusting God’s plan for my life that I’ve declared 2016 to be the year of belief. I refuse to have limiting beliefs that limit my joy and personal success this year. Last year was a year for the history books in many not-so-good ways, but it’s clear now more than ever that we grow the most when we go through some things.  

A Few Things 2015 Taught Me

 1.      Bad things can happen to anyone. An unfortunate situation can leave us paralyzed or propel us forward. It all comes down to our response.

2.      Sometimes your dreams have to be denied (even if for a short time) in order for you to realize your full potential.

3.      You have to decide to win even if you don’t have a fan club to lean on.

4.      You have to find ways to encourage yourself on a daily basis. This is true especially if you don’t have a strong support system. Motivational podcasts have really carried me through the low moments of 2015.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing, that’s why we recommend it daily.”-Zig Ziglar

5.      Accept when you don’t fit in or feel like the oddball. That should let you know that you’re on the right track. You’re called to be the agent of change, not to conform.

6.      If you have the ability to inspire others, you’re a leader—even if you don’t have any titles or don’t feel like it’s true. We all have the ability to lead.

7.      Growth requires expanding your knowledge, experience, and network. It can’t happen with you staying stuck where you are.

8.      Just show up. You may not feel prepared. You may be running late. More than likely, you will be glad that you showed up and will learn a thing or two.

9.      Life is happening now. It’s the struggle/the process/the journey. Life is not waiting until you have accomplished all of your goals; it’s what’s going on while you work at your goals. Don’t wait until sometime in the future to enjoy the life you have right now. Only this very moment is guaranteed to anyone.

10.   We have to change our mindset in order to change anything that we’re dissatisfied with in our lives. No change in circumstances can take place if our thoughts and perceptions don’t change. The change starts inside before it’s manifested outside.

Honestly, I could go on and on about the little nuggets of wisdom that I’ve picked up from my experiences and observations in 2015, but I’d love to hear about your mantras, goals, and affirmations both that you’ve gained from 2015 and that you hope to ring true for 2016. Do you believe that 2016 can be your best year yet? Do you have a specific plan for how to make that happen? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook. We got this!

Make Sure YOU Win

Hello all my popped loves! I hope that you haven’t forgotten about me! I know that I’ve been a bit M.I.A. but Lord, if you knew what I’ve been going through…I had some really bad news a couple weeks ago that really threw my world upside down. I’m sure that one day, I will share more details about it, but all that I have the will to say right now is that it was news that shook the very foundation of my vision for the next few years of my life. You see, I had a plan, but of course, it’s often said that God laughs at our plans and does what He wants to do anyway! Have you ever been there? Have you had something happen to you that shook the foundation for your future or maybe even made you question your identity?

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“Don’t let disappointment or tragedy be the end of your story. Use it to make you even more determined to win.”

If so, I want you to remember something, no matter how bleak things may look right now, your story doesn’t have to be over. You may not be able to control everything that happens to you or around you, which is frustrating to the control freak in us all. However, we have full control over our reactions to whatever does happen to us. We can let something defeat us and make us kiss the game goodbye. Or we can use the disappointment, frustration, or [insert expletive here] to propel us forward. Don’t let disappointment be the end of your story. Use it to make you even more determined to win.

The inner pain I felt due to my situation made me want to crawl under my bed and stay there forever. But, I realized that if not anything else, I have a family—a daughter—that is relying on me to keep my ish together to be there for them. Instead of focusing on the things I couldn’t control, I decided to throw myself into starting Popped Handmade—a luxury, handmade, natural beauty product line for the everyday positive, optimistic, & powerful woman or man like yourself. Do I feel completely ready to take on this venture? No. Do I feel a bit overwhelmed at the mere thought of it? Yes. Will those fears stop me from giving it a shot and doing the very best that I can to perfect my products and grow my business knowledge? Hell no. The thing about feeling like you’ve hit a rock bottom of sorts is there’s nowhere to go but up. If this project fails, I will be right back where I started in the first place, yet I will have gained knowledge about business and myself that I would never have acquired otherwise.

If you, like me, are going through a valley in your life right now, use your experience as motivation to flip the script and make your story have a better ending. Don’t let the struggle win; make sure YOU win.

Check out the Popped Handmade Facebook and Instagram pages and let me know what you think!

A Little Rain Never Hurt Nobody

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… It’s about learning to dance in the rain. – Vivian Greene See below for image source.

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… It’s about learning to dance in the rain. – Vivian Greene. See below for image source.

Growing up, I was taught to avoid the rain and stay inside on rainy days. Whether it was because I wasn’t supposed to get my hair wet or because it was feared that getting rained on could cause a cold, I’m not sure—probably both of those things. However, as an adult, I’m learning not to fear the rain. The “don’t want to mess up my hair” reason doesn’t work since I’ve been #teamnatural for the past 7 years. Seriously, shrinkage is as normal as breathing and nothing to get worked up over anymore. Plus, now I understand that a little rain can’t hurt as long as you’re prepared for it (Isn’t that true for anything in life?).

In a light drizzle, all you might need is a jacket to keep you warm and a hood to cover your head. Of course you’ll need a bit more in case of a downpour like a warm raincoat/water-resistant jacket with a hood, umbrella, and rain boots. Preparation makes all the difference. It allows you to go out singing in the rain, instead of cursing under your breath.

We had one of those gray, rainy days in the Chi yesterday. Despite the grayness of the sky and the light drizzle outside, I took L-Boogie out for an adventure to the biggest library in the city via public transportation. We’d been cooped up inside for the past few days and simply needed to get out.

When we first stepped outside and I felt the small raindrops, I thought about taking her back inside. I thought about how we would have to take the bus and the train. I thought about the fact that I couldn’t find an umbrella in the house. I thought about how I wouldn’t want us to get caught in a major downpour that would cause us to both get soaked and God forbid…sick! But, I stepped out on faith—faith that even if the rain came down harder, we could find shelter or buy an umbrella from a drugstore, faith that even if one of us got the sniffles from being cold and wet that it wouldn’t be the end of the world. We would drink orange juice and eat soup; we would be ok.

And whaddaya know? The light drizzle stopped and we returned home bone dry; we were completely fine. We had lunch at Panera. We picked out new books at the library and L-Boogie played with giant Legos and blocks. I have to say it was a good day. I’m definitely glad that the gray sky and a little rain didn’t stop us from getting out and having a little adventure. Neither should you 😉

Photo credit: “Jumpin’ in the Rain” by Tony Fischer. Taken on ‎June‎ ‎27‎, ‎2008 Flickr via Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 I have no rights to this photo. No changes were made.