Yesterday I stood with thousands of New Yorkers at Battery Park, overlooking the Statue of Liberty, to protest the Muslim travel ban Donald Trump placed earlier that weekend. I love living in a sanctuary city, especially in times like these.
“What are you?” is a question I’m often asked and when I respond “black” it never seems to satisfy those who are so curious. I always get nudged to further explain my ethnicity (which is annoying by the way) but the fact of the matter is, I’ve never fully known. I’ve known that I have African and European traces on my father’s side and African and Native American on my mother’s. Yet it bothered me that I didn’t know details of where my African lineage traced back to. It’s not uncommon for media, or society in general, to refer to Africa as a homogeneous land without differentiating the countries and cultures within the massive continent (there are 54 recognized countries, 2,000 languages spoken and over 1.1 billion citizens within Africa).
It almost felt as though understanding and claiming my specific African roots would help debunk the myth that the entirety of Africa and African culture are identical. I also strongly identify as African American and an important part of our history is slavery. As one can imagine, slavery stripped us of our tribes, culture, traditions, and ultimately the ability to track our African ancestry and details of our ethnicity. Getting my DNA results felt like I was taking back something that was brutally stolen from me and my family.
Therefore on my birthday this year I requested an AncestryDNA test to discover a small piece of my ancestors. Once I received the kit I simply had to provide a saliva sample and ship it back to the lab (which was complimentary by the way). Within 2 or 3 weeks I received an email stating that my results were in.
Before I revealed the results to my curious family, my parents gave their guesses:
Mom: 70% African, 15% European, 15% Native American
Dad: 65% African, 30% European, 5% Native American
The final results were as follows:
62% African, 36% European, 2% Asian
You can see in the left tab that the majority of my DNA traces to Ivory Coast/Ghana (26%), Cameroon/Congo (17%) and Ireland (14%). Sorry mom, no traces of any Native American in my blood; not even one percent! I must say, that was unsurprising to me (I feel like everyone claims that they’re Native American) but of course surprising to my mother. What I was not expecting was any traces of Asian ancestry, especially since my DNA was mapped to India and the Turkmenistan/Afghanistan/Uzbekistan region. Although just 2% is apparent, it does make me curious about where that came from! Of course it was very valuable learning about my specific African ancestry: I was traced back to 9 African regions.
What’s also worthwhile about Ancestry.com is that based on your DNA, they’ll match you to other people who have taken the test who are believed to be related to you. The first person who popped up for me was my first cousin so I trust the accuracy.
At this point almost everyone in my family has now requested an Ancestry kit for Christmas since they’ve been so intrigued with the results. This excites me because if my parents take the test I’ll have a better understanding of my maternal and paternal history and which side my results derive from.
Overall I’m very happy that I decided to get the test and learn more about my family and myself. There’s definitely a relief in taking back something that is so personal to me.
As a kid I was an adamant reader–in fact, competitive. I took my reading duties very seriously. Each year I “won” amongst my classmates for most AR points and most books read throughout the year. Before I went to sleep I would always read new stories in bed.
Unfortunately I fell out of this habit (thank you technology for my decreased attention span) but one item that has rekindled my love of reading has been my handy dandy library card. I caught myself being the girl who would “test read” books at the Barnes & Nobles but actually finished them in a single sitting….without purchasing the book. So in an attempt to be more ethical, I got a library card when I moved to New York. It’s provided me endless access to books without the need to hide in a corner pretending that I am not in fact reading an entire book free of purchase. Therefore I’m constantly wandering through the many Manhattan bookshelves grabbing as many books as I can carry home. A few of my favorite finds are below:
1. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl – Issa Rae
I have been a fan of Issa since 2010 when I discovered her “Awkward Black Girl” web series. If you’re a fan Issa’s productions (she recently launched Insecure, a new HBO show) then you’ll definitely be a fan of her book and there’s a reason it’s at the top of my list.
2. It’s Not About Perfect – Shannon Miller
As a former gymnast myself I am especially intrigued by the life stories of accomplished Olympic gymnasts. Shannon Miller, a part of the Magnificent Seven who brought home the first USA team gold at the ’96 Olympics, shares how she used lessons learned from competing in gymnastics to fight cancer later in life.
3. Off Balance – Dominique Moceanu
Another intriguing gymnast story, Dominique Moceanu opens up about her broken family life and the abuse she experienced training for & competing in the 1996 Olympics. Later in adulthood Moceanu receives a letter from a fan claiming she is her long lost full-blood sister — and looks just like her! That’s not even the full extent of plot this twist but you’ll have to read to find out more.
4. Notes to Boys – Pamela Ribon
I really enjoyed this book due to the writing style the author adopted. Teenage Pamela Ribon was a hopeless romantic who would not only write profoundly dramatic notes to boys, but also write a copy for her records. Readers will wince reading young Pamela’s old notes & poetry that are coupled with present day commentary for laughs.
5. Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling
Since The Office days I have loved everything Mindy has put her hands on and this book is no different. In her second book, Mindy shares the awkward and uncomfortable moments that come along with being “kinda famous.”
6. Everybody’s Got Something – Robin Roberts
Good Morning America host, Robin Roberts, recounts her journey fighting cancer in the wake of being a well-known TV figure. Throughout the book Robin reminds viewers that regardless of money, race, religion or background someone always is going/has gone/will go through trials & tribulations.
7. Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes
Readers finally get a look into TV producer/powerhouse, Shonda Rhimes’ personal life as she shares her journey to inner-confidence. Painfully shy, Shonda reveals how she hid behind her characters and storylines, that is until she made a commitment to say “yes” to all new opportunities–including those of utmost discomfort.
8. What I Know For Sure – Oprah Winfrey
Everything Oprah touches turns to gold in my eyes so of course I enjoyed reading words of wisdom from Mother O. Because hello, it’s OPRAH. No more explanation necessary. Thank you Mother O for blessing us commoners with a book filled with your wisdom.
9. Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari
As I read Aziz Ansari’s book all I kept repeating in my head was “SO TRUE.” Aziz truly does his research analyzing and uncovering the world of modern dating, showcasing how and why this generation’s dating world completely unlike any others’ due to technology. He brings light to the unique benefits and struggles we face and how we can all improve.
10. Cinderella Ate My Daughter – Peggy Orenstein
Raising a 3-year-old daughter, Peggy Orenstein questions the world of pink and princess fluff that her toddler seems innately drawn toward. Is it all harmless or will the messaging harm young girls’ self-esteem? With humor, Orenstein asks these questions and raises concerns about how princess culture leads to the sexualization of girlhood.
11. Quiet – Susan Cain
The full title of this book is “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.” Growing up I was always under the impression that extroverts were favored to introverts, which resulted in a lot of awkward and uncomfortable situations. This book shares all the crucial traits and skills introverts bring to the table and how society suffers if we force everyone into extroversion.
12. Living Forward – Michael Hyatt & Daniel Harkavy
If you’re looking for a step by step guide to plan for your future, this book will provide the exercises to get your priorities in line and live the life you’re purposed for. Authors provide personal exercises that will readers stop drifting and instead live with purpose.
If you have any book recommendations please let me know!
Anger and angst — these are the emotions that I have been cycling through. Both leaving me crippled with overwhelming fear.
It’s taken me a while to be able to speak on the incidents of police brutality that have been unveiled over the last few weeks. One reason being because just as I begin to process an event and put my words down, another incident comes to light, leaving me at a loss for words again. This has become traumatizing — constantly watching the modern-day genocide of black men through police brutality. And it has been equally exhausting trying to convince people that this problem exists.
It feels as though there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. If you don’t already know by now that black lives matter then will throwing a hashtag on it really make you change your mind? Is retweeting quotes of Jesse Williams’ speech actually educating the people who need it the most? Does anyone hear me? Does my voice really matter? How can I make an impact?
Because I’ve spoken up but it still feels as though the only people who hear me are like-minded individuals who are caught in a similar system of oppression. We cycle the same messages amongst each other but it’s like those on the outside just scroll right past us or comment “I get that black lives matter but…” Black people can’t bear the responsibility of ending racism in America. There’s really only so much we can possibly do.
I remember interning at a local news station on February 27th, 2012 when I saw the image of Trayvon Martin plastered on every TV screen. I remember marching through downtown Austin while recording a podcast so people could understand how Trayvon’s death and legacy affected us in Austin. Determined, I stayed up all night creating the podcast to share with anyone I could. I had faith that the power of social media would overpower traditional media and be a solution to end these occurrences. In my mind I thought, this has to be the last straw. There’s no way Zimmerman’s getting away with this….
But he did. And then it happened again. And again and again and again. And then from there it kept spiraling to the point that I saw no end in sight. I remember scrolling through Twitter on August 9, 2014 when I saw pictures of Michael Brown’s body lying in the street for hours as he bled out, in front of neighbors and children, only be dumped in the back of someone’s car. This eventually escalated to what we know as #Ferguson. As a nation we watched, shocked and appalled as militarized law enforcement abused the rights of journalists and Ferguson citizens who were justifiably angry at the lack of justice. I tweeted, I ranted, I wanted to make sure EVERYONE saw and acknowledged the lack of justice that plagued black communities in America. This has to be the last straw. There’s absolutely no way they can get away with treating people like this….
But the policeman who shot Michael Brown got away with it. Then I saw Eric Garner’s murder. I watched a cop use an illegal chokehold technique against a man who was obviously nonviolent. We all saw the entire confrontation and murder from start to finish on video. At least it was all recorded, I naively thought. There was nothing left to be decided. There were no ifs, ands or buts; not even a maybe. This cop was in the wrong for murdering an innocent human being. We’ve cornered him, we’ve got all the video evidence! There’s no way he will get away with this…
On December 3, 2014 I was working on Capitol Hill when the entire press office gasped when we saw “NO INDICTMENT” run across the every TV screen on every major station.
That’s when the helplessness sunk in. It didn’t matter that there was video evidence, or that the nation was up in arms, or that a black man was in the White House–we weren’t going to get justice. They could so easily kill us, weasel out of any repercussions, and then end up profiting from a GoFundMe campaign. And that’s when I became numb.
I’m not saying that my response was right but that was my last straw. I didn’t know how to combat this issue anymore.
Obviously there have been hundreds of similar incidents before, between and since these: the Texas teen pool party of 2015, Sandra Bland, 7-year-old Aiyana Jones, I COULD GO ON FOREVER. It was the death of Alton Stirling that stirred me up again. I saw the hashtag trending and thought, Here we go again. Another cycle of murder, ignored video evidence, cop gets off, ends up with some sort of monetary gain. The video pained my soul and I didn’t even watch it all the way through as I found myself sobbing.
Just as we were mourning the traumatic death of Alton Stirling LESS THAN 24 HOURS LATER we witnessed, live, Philandro Castille murdered in front of his 4 year old daughter and girlfriend during a traffic stop. Since I started writing this post a week ago, I’ve seen at least three more videos of police stepping out of line attacking black people in Miami, Austin and Louisiana.
Anger, angst and fear.
It’s not possible to be numb anymore. I have to say something for the slightest, tiniest, most minuscule chance that my thoughts and expressions could progress change. Standing in support of black Americans is often considered “controversial” and frowned upon in this country but I refuse to shy away.
At this moment I’m still spinning my wheels trying to strategize how I can best work to improve the racial climate of our country. If you’re ever feeling powerless about any issue, as I often have, I’ve provided a link to an article that provides 26 ways you can contribute to ending violence and injustice that you may have not have already thought of. A few that I’d like to add are:
- Make sure you’re registered to vote.
- Make sure you actually vote. Yes, there’s the presidential election but also keep in mind that88% of Congress is up for re-election this year.
- Pray/meditate/speak to whatever higher being you may believe in. Take care of your mental and spiritual health.
There’s so much more to be said but for now, be safe.
Black History Month 2016 has been one for the books and has been referred to as the blackest one yet. We experienced excellence at epic proportions with a whole lot of unapologetic blackness…so much so that we’ve been saying “YAAAS” all month long. I’ve recapped with a few highlights but before we jump in, I’m going to set the tone with this video below:
Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy Performance
I’m bestowing the Politically Aware Artist of the Year Award to Kendrick Lamar, who consistently writes powerful lyrics in every single line of every single song. True poetry is what he performed at this year’s Grammy’s starting with “The Blacker the Berry” and leading into “Alright” from his album, “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
His powerful lyrics, matched with equally powerful visuals, were more than I was prepared for on the other side of the screen. He stepped out in shackles y’all! From a prison stage set, to an indoor bonfire, to a backdrop of Africa, Kendrick’s imagery alone shocked the audience (literally).
Even though he didn’t win “Album of the Year” (don’t get me started on that) Kendrick Lamar showcased, that as usual, he is a reliable source of meaningful music that empowers change.
President Barack Obama
President Obama has also been enjoying an extra blackity Black History Month in the White House, probably since it’s his last. Not sure what I’m referring to? Check out the timeline below.
It started with 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin dancing with President Obama and the first lady (super cute!)….
To then be followed by a “Heyyyy Michelle!” from a White House guest who felt right at home….
Leading up to this past week, where President Obama led the singalong at a Ray Charles Tribute.
And for kicks and gigs, let’s revisit to when President Obama sang Amazing Grace last summer. #NeverForget
The Release of Formation
It’s always a big deal when Beyonce drops new music–especially when it descends from the heavens and finds its way to our ears without any notice. Yet the real shocker came when we watched the video for a song like Formation that celebrated her–well, our–baby hair, afros and Jackson 5 nostrils. We were shocked! A black conscious single? Is that you, Bey?
With this release, Beyonce positioned herself as not only an entertainer, but an activist as well. Naturally the video and Super Bowl performance created controversy and discomfort, which revealed the disturbing truth that many of us already knew. No, not that Red Lobster has great cheddar “Bey” biscuits. But that as a society, people become more enraged about black folks addressing the issue of police brutality than police brutality itself.
Whether you like the song or not (I personally can’t stand 96% of the lyrics), this is Beyonce’s way of telling the world that she’s paying attention to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Sophina DeJesus Twirling through her Meet
If you haven’t seen this performance, stop what you’re doing and check this girl out NOW. If you have seen her epic floor routine, you know where I’m going.
Sophina girl, where have you been all my life?! The world watched this floor routine and all said a collective, “YAAAAAAAS!” She did that! Effortlessly! Sophina is Puerto Rican and I’m not sure if she identifies as black, but I’m adding her to our team. Cool? Cool.
Sophina blessed UCLA’s women’s gymnastics team with a 9.925 (which is downright amazing, but where was the deduction?) floor routine and a whole lot of energy. Y’all she brought back the Harlem Shake! And not that rhythmless Harlem Shake mess that took over in 2013. I mean the real Harlem Shake that a cornrowed Lil Bow Wow did in all his music videos circa 2002.
When I competed in gymnastics the blackest song I could find on the National Gymnastics League’s list was I Want You Back by the Jackson 5 (lol). But when I saw Sophina perform her floor routine I was so proud that she had broken an unwritten barrier—a barrier that previously prevented complete creative freedom, instead insisting that hip hop is not graceful or elite. I wish I had seen this routine when I was still competing. Go Sophina!
Prince’s Passport Photo
This is perfect and I don’t really know what more I can say. I can only express my thoughts through hashtags: #NoShame #Unapologetic #Flawless #HatersGonHate #GetLikeMe #InternationalBish #WerkWerkWerkWerkWerk
Black Twitter Logo
I don’t know who created this logo but it caught wind on Twitter and I think it’s safe to say that it’s (unofficially) official now! #MamaWeMadeIt
Other notable stories that you may have missed: