Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Word(ful) Wednesday: Art and Imagination

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” —Albert Einstein

Okay, so I'm no Einstein, by any stretch. But these words inspired me to make the rounds of the artwork hanging throughout our house and think about the talent and, specifically, the imagination of each of the artists. And then I came across these two pieces, created by my girls at an art class a friend of mine had at her place. The kids were studying the renowned Harlem Renaissance artist William H. Johnson, whose folksy art always featured beautiful images of African Americans—their arms stretched wide, their legs leaping. Exploring. Praising. Happy. Their instructor, Jackie Ellett, whom I written about before HERE on MyBrownBaby, asked her charges to paint an expressive picture of a child with arms stretched wide; Mari's is up top, in the orange, and Lila's is the yellow.

They make the walls around here sing.

And inspire us to use our imaginations to make up fantastic tales about why the girls in the pictures are happy.

Which always makes us leap for joy.

My hope is that they'll make you smile, too.


(Note: Lila wanted me to stress that when she painted that picture, she was four. And she's a MUCH better painter now that she's seven. Also, Mari wanted me to note that the black spots on her character's jeans are pockets. Not armpits. Just in case there was any confusion and stuff.]

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Black Teen Girls

Google "black teen girls."

Go ahead—I triple dog dare you.

But don’t do it while your babies are standing by your side.

Because if you do, your children are going to catch an eye-full—a bevy of sites highlighting every sexually-charged, nasty, smutty, dirty thing a perv could ever fantasize about our girls, laid out in black and white, page after filthy page, for all the world to see. If it’s not a porn site dedicated to showcasing “young hot” poontang, then it’s a link to a story about how many black girls have STDs, YouTube videos of them popping their booties, or sites showing them beating each other to a bloody pulp.

Dead. Fish. Eyes.

I stumbled on this madness a few days ago while helping a friend of mine, who, in the middle of writing a book about black teen girls and self-esteem, asked me to help her find organizations dedicated to ushering our girl-children into womanhood. Now, it’s hard to shock me; I’m a black woman in America and I know how poisonous and unforgiving pop culture can be, particularly when it comes to images of African-American femininity. But this right here? I simply didn’t expect it—not so blatant, so in-your-face, so ridiculously callous.

And then we wonder why our girls are catching hell at every turn. We’ve got barely-legal singers like THIS FOOL singing chart-topping songs about how he’s going break headboards banging girls, and fashion companies hanging in the center of urban communities billboards LIKE THIS, featuring a young woman on her knees, looking like she’s either about to suck—or just finished sucking—on some boy’s privates, like she was made to master it. And statistics that ring the alarm on the state of black girls—poor graduation rates, high teen pregnancy stats, low self-esteem, increased suicide rates, boots in sexual violence against our babies—go virtually unaddressed, virtually ignored.

I wrote a feature story about this for the April/May issue of the incredible health and lifestyle magazine, HEART & SOUL, the issue with the beautiful actress Regina King gracing the cover (it's on stands now—cop a copy!). In it, I explored the state of black girls, and let’s just say, it ain’t pretty. In the piece, I talk to social media activist Gina McCauley, founder of the website, WHAT ABOUT OUR DAUGHTERS, who told Heart & Soul that the staggering statistics speak volumes to the need for a focused, intensive intervention on behalf of black girls.

“Black women and girls are the living dead,” said McCauley, whose site calls attention to injustices against black women and girls—from unfair media coverage and pop culture to crimes against them. “We’re ignored because we’re walking around and we have the audacity to survive the crime, the violence, and the turmoil. But if you look at all these problems we have, they all lead back to the fact that we are in insecure situations and we’re all catching hell. The African American community surrounds black men, but the crisis of black women gets marginalized or dismissed altogether, and that does nothing more than hurt us all.

“But if they will not fight for us,” McCaughly added, “we must fight for ourselves.”

Indeed. It was scary enough to usher a black boy through teenhood without him getting arrested, killed, marginalized, dismissed or snatched away from us in some kind of crazy fashion. Like I wrote HERE about our son, Mazi, he turned out pretty okay. But now, Nick and I have this whole other world of danger on the horizon, where our daughters will be seen as nothing more than future porn stars or disease-carrying sex addicts or mini-thugs beating the hell out of each other between takes of them shaking it fast for the latest YouTube entry.

This—this is what a men in Germany, women in Switzerland, teens in Japan, aunties and uncles and mamas and papas in Idaho and Hawaii and Puerto Rico and Iraq see and think about our children when they Google “black teen girls.” One dimension—that’s all our babies get.

How on Earth do we even begin to change this?

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Monday, March 29, 2010

The Subtle Art of Disciplining

Be clear: back in my day, mumbling under one’s breath and slamming doors and talking back to the ‘rents was an indictable offense punishable by lots of shrill screaming and an extended stay in your bedroom sans TV, radio or any form of human contact.

Let’s just say that when it came to kids disrespecting authority, my mom, Bettye, didn’t play. She and my dad raised my brother and me without the benefit of parent coaches, without a parade of childrearing segments on morning news shows and without a subscription to best-selling parenting magazines. What she knew and what she practiced and what worked for her was one simple philosophy: children were to be seen, not heard, and their opinions on most subjects—no matter how much they made sense—definitely weren’t welcome. Keeping my mouth shut and doing as I was told was the only option. For me, it was about self-preservation—survival.

But I promised myself that when I had children of my own, I would use different tactics to get them to obey me—tactics that didn’t involve verbal or mental intimidation. My goal: to have my children respect rather than fear me. Rather than holler and scream like a banshee when they did something wrong, I would praise them when they did something right. “You’re the adult and therefore, smarter than them,” I’d tell myself. “Use your Mighty Isis smart powers to get them to bend to your will.”

At least that’s what all the parenting books said I should do.

None of them warned, though, of the visceral reaction I’d have when my 10-year-old, refused to yield to my pressure to show her little sister some mercy and muttered under her breath or when my 7-year-old, ticked that she didn’t get her way (again), stomped off, leaving slammed doors in her wake.

This! This is what throws me off. Because, though I’m no punk when it comes to disciplining my kids, I feel like the discipline techniques I use should earn me a little respect, right? That my kids should appreciate my new-school parenting techniques which demand good behavior, all the while instilling confidence. I mean, if one of my girls is, say, running through the living room when I’ve just told her not to, I’m not yelling and sending her to her room; I’m using my grown-up logic to help her understand the consequences of running through a room full of glass, breakables and sharp objects and imploring her to learn the value of self-control—a teachable moment that ultimately makes her feel good about herself when she makes a better choice all on her own later on down the line.

The saving grace is that, though my tweens have plenty of their “can’t get right” moments behind our closed doors, they do show deference and respect to their elders outside of our home. In fact, my girls give family elders, teachers, coaches, even teenage babysitters (if you remove their 17-year-old brother out of that group!) all the respect any one child can muster. I can’t help but to think that it’s because we’ve taught them not only to think logically about the consequences they’d face if they refused to follow the rules of the grown-ups in charge—loss of recess if they act up in class, less play time on the soccer field if they don’t listen to their coach—but we have also made it clear that getting into trouble over such things is not an option. After all, Mommy would be sorely disappointed with reports of bad behavior. And the mere idea of making their mother disappointed affects my girls more than any tirade ever could.

I try my best to remind myself of such things when the muttering and the door slamming and the “that’s not fair” outbursts invade our otherwise peaceful house. My girls are, ultimately, good girls. At least this is what their teachers and their coaches and their babysitters and other adults charged with their care outside of my presence tell me.

For this, at least, I’m grateful.

For tips, confidence-building tools and stories about how moms are helping their tweens navigate those sweat-inducing “moments,” check out

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Friday, March 26, 2010

The Scariest Show On TV: NBC's Parenthood

...a scene in which the father scolds the daughter for having a secret boyfriend. horror show. God—this is so about to be our life in, like, four years.

*clutching prayer beads, lighting candles, guzzling holy water, on our knees*

Pray. For. Us.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

You Saved Me—A MyBrownBaby Giveaway

I was all of 23 and looked like I wasn’t even yet of legal drinking age and I was a black woman, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that when I’d show up to mayoral press conferences with my reporter’s notepad and my mini tape recorder and my questions, my fellow journalists—mostly male, mostly white, mostly a decade or two older—would make quick work of rendering me irrelevant. In their eyes, it seemed, I was a lightweight—an affirmative action baby taking up valuable real estate in both the New York City political press corps and in the pages of the Daily News, then the sixth-largest newspaper in the country. Clearly, I was not worthy of working such a prestigious beat. Or at least that’s the way they treated me—certainly the way it was taken.

It never seemed to occur to them that I was young and fresh and hardworking and good at my job. That I’d earned my keep. And while on most days I just shrugged it off and threw it down with my reporting and writing skills, there were those days when the ignorance and the sexism and the racism and the ridiculousness of it all would get the best of me.

Enter Nick—then a competitor and friend. I’ll never forget how he saved me and my sanity on one particular day when I let some side comments and blatant disrespect from a colleague bring me to tears. “You,” he said simply in a clandestine phone call to my desk where I sat, slumped and defeated, “are better than him. He’s lazy and dumb and you? You can write circles around him. Don’t let his jealousy and bitterness steal your joy. I believe in you.”

I believe in you.

I can’t tell you what those four words meant to me—how they lifted both of my shoulders and steeled my back and dried up the water in my eyes and raised the corners of my lips. It’s not that I needed validation—particularly from a man. But it was a much-needed reminder that I really was a helluva writer and reporter and deserved to be where I was at that stage in my career, and it felt good to walk into the den of lions confident that someone had my back. And when I made up my mind I was untouchable when it came to my writing skills? It was over for them.

I owe that to my man.

He saved me.

It is this that I think about as I help Essence bloggers Lamar and Ronnie Tyler, the creators of, celebrate the release of their latest film, You Saved Me, the follow up to their best-selling debut, Happily Ever After: A Positive Image of Black Marriage. You Saved Me features candid looks at the hardships, trials, and ultimate success stories of real couples, who give an unprecedented look not only at black marriages, but what it takes to make them work.

You Saved Me is on DVD beginning March 29, but you know your girl has the hook-up, right? Lamar and Ronnie gave MyBrownBaby two DVD’s to give away to two lucky MyBrownBaby readers. All you have to do is leave a comment saying what you love about your significant other (whether he/she is a spouse or simply someone extra special). Want to earn extra chances to win? Tweet: “@MyBrownBaby is celebrating love with a You Saved Me giveaway!” up to three times for a total of four chances to win.

The contest ends Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. Winners will be announced Friday, April 2, 2010.

Don’t want to wait around for your copy? Well, you can purchase the DVD at a discount up until the official release date, March 29, 2010, by clicking HERE.

And if you can’t bear to wait for the DVD, you can check out movie premiers in more than 25 cities this weekend. Click HERE for movie listings.


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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Girl Crushing on Erykah Badu

I ♥ Erykah Badu.

Cop to being a total Stan...

Because she's fly...
And clever...

A master teacher...
Dedicated to her art, her culture and her people...

And it helps that she's totally badass...
Particularly when she tells him he "betta call Tyrone"...

And she demands a window seat...
So she can have a "chance to fly, a chance to cry, and a long bye-bye"...

Some days, it be's like that...

Say word, Erykah...

Say word.

(Erykah's new album, New Amerykah, Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh" drops next week—March 30, 2010. I. Can't. Wait.)

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Hell? Junior Condoms for Junior

The thing is, I get it: I understand the logic behind wanting to make sure that sexually-active boys protect themselves and their partners from disease and pregnancy if they're getting it in. Lord knows the statistics support the need: Black teens represent 69 percent of AIDS cases reported among 13- to 19-year-olds, and teen girls represent 39 percent of AIDS cases reported among the same age group. Somebody needs to do some fast talking to our young folk about the importance of wrapping it up.

But condoms for tweens?

Uh huh, you read that right: A condom manufacturer in Switzerland plans to sell "extra small" prophylactics designed to fit boys as young as 12. The company says it designed the "Hot Shot" condoms after research showed sexually-active boys between ages 12 and 14 are less likely to use condoms. Apparently, average-sized condoms are—get this—too big for their little tykes.

Um, you think? I never really thought about it up until this very moment, but I'm guessing that the company that pumps out the gold packs didn't design them with a 12-year-old in mind.

And really, have we finally reached the point in our society where we're going to make it easy for our kids—our babies—to, like, get some? And are we really expected to co-sign it? Who, exactly, is supposed to buy these little jewels for our sons', um, family jewels? What's he going to use to buy them—his lunch money? Should I pick them up while I'm at the Kroger buying juice boxes and Snickers bars? Or maybe they'll have a nice little convenient display in the toy section at my local Tar-jay; we can pick up a new Wii game and a box of Hot Shots, you know, so our tween sons can really get their play on.

Call me a prude/old school/unrealistic/naive, but this ain't right.

Hey, here's an idea: Instead of co-signing the manufacturing of tot condoms, maybe—just maybe—we parents can do our jobs—you know, go on ahead and lay down this tough but apparently necessary edict to our scooter-riding, Nintendo-addicted, booger-flicking-for-kicks set: If your peen is too small to fit the average-sized condom, keep it in your pants—you're probably too young to have sex. (With apologies to the, ahem, stick-challenged grown-up guys who may be excited by this new development—clearly, my kid-centric message is not for you. And, er, good luck with that.)

Just sayin'.

:: Shout-out to my girl Tara over at the fab Young Mommy Life for calling attention to the madness in THIS POST::

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Monday, March 22, 2010

EVERYBODY Should Read Black Children's Books

Yup, I admit it: For years, I've been on a secret mission to integrate the bookshelves and toy chests of a bunch of my daughters' white friends. Every time Mari and Lila were invited to a birthday party, I'd send them with fancy gift bags full of copies of Debbie Allen's "Dancing in the Wings," bell hooks' "Home Made Love," and Faith Ringgold's "Tar Beach," plus a chocolate Barbie for good measure.

Subversive? Yes.

Necessary? Very.

See, the majority of the parents of my daughters' friends, no matter how kind and smart and sweet they are, didn't buy black books, dolls, or movies for their children. I don't think they were being racist or striking out against diversity, by any stretch; it just never seemed to really occur to them that maybe, just maybe, their daughters would identify with the pretty, round-faced girl pie in "Home Made Love," or Sassy, the talented but shy ballerina in "Dancing in the Wings" -- or that there would be value in letting their daughters read their sweet, insightful, beautifully human stories.

Indeed, one of my mom friends, the mother of three boys, recently confessed to me that she'd gotten into a nasty argument with her mother and sister when she gave her niece a black doll for her birthday. The store, see, had run out of the white version of the doll, which her niece really wanted, and so my friend just went on ahead and bought the brown version. Well what did she do that for? "My mom and sister were livid," she said. Two weeks later, they were still speaking to her only when spoken to.

To my friend's credit, she couldn't understand what the big deal was. And the fact of the matter is, it shouldn't be. It's not like the black doll is going to jump out of the toy chest and go "boogedy, boogedy boo" at the first kid who finds it, or that a black children's book is going to be chock full of stereotypical Ebonics and rated "R" storylines ready to turn out the innocent ears of the babies. But this, it seems, is how all-too-many white parents treat them.

I speak from experience, you know. I'm the co-author of a three-book teen series called "Hotlanta," and I've stood by and watched white teenage girls excitedly read the back jacket, only to have their moms literally wrestle the book out of their hands and lead them to white books. A fellow author, Derrick Barnes, recently told me that books four and five in his brilliant children's book series, "Ruby and the Booker Boys," will likely never make it to bookshelves if sales for the first three in the series don't pick up -- a problem that could be remedied easily if black moms weren't the only ones shelling out $5 a pop for Derrick's books. Hell, the black Barbie dolls that were priced to move in Louisiana last week -- they were being sold for nearly half the price of the white dolls -- are there not just because black moms aren't buying them, but because white moms pass them up for the white ones.

I get it: I want my daughters to play with dolls that look like them, too, for all the obvious reasons. But when my friends gifted "Good Night Moon" and "Eloise" and countless "Junie B. Jones" books to my babies, I didn't have a conniption. When they served up blonde Barbies to my girls, I didn't take them out back and burn them in effigy. I simply added them to the collection. My girls have a literal rainbow coalition of doll babies—chocolate brown ones, Asians, Latinas, white with blonde hair, red-haired, olive-skinned ones. We bought some of them. Some of them were gifts. Neither their bookshelves nor their toy chests discriminate: Indeed, my girls' toys reflect the truly diverse world they live in, where the kids who fill their school rooms and playgroups speak different languages and come from different countries and backgrounds and income levels and aren't necessarily a bunch of frilly little tea-toting girls.

My hope is when I pass along a black children's book or a black doll baby to my daughters' friends, that they get the same subliminal lessons -- that brown children matter. Books like "Ruby and the Booker Boys" speak to our experiences and show both our differences and our commonalities with white culture. Introducing books like these to white children is the most simple, basic way to introduce a child to another race in a positive, thoughtful way. A white child introduced to Ruby may not necessarily say, "Oh look! A black girl is the star of this book!" when she reads it. She might not notice the character's color at all. But she just might decide to make friends with a little black girl out on the playground because she looks like the character in the book she liked. And since she really liked that book, she'll probably really like that little girl, too.

Children really are that simple. That uncomplicated.

My prayer is that we moms get a little of that act right in us, too.

In the meantime, if you want to make a difference, pick up one—or all—of these beautiful books for your child (click on the titles to purchase them online):

The Ruby and the Booker Boys series, by Derrick Barnes
Tar Beach, by Faith Ringold
Homemade Love, by bell hooks
We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past, by Jacqueline Woodson
The Gospel Cinderella, by Joyce Carol Thomas
Olu's Dream, by Shane Evans
Precious and the Boo Hag, by Patricia McKissack
Whistle for Willie, by Ezra Jack Keats
A Chair For My Mother, by Vera B. Williams
The Willimena Rules! series, by Valerie Wilson Wesley

NOTE: This piece originally was written for my column at's The Parenting Post. To see the rest of my columns there and to enjoy great mom-to-mom advice on raising children, CLICK HERE.

(And um, since there are a few moms over there acting like my request that they let their children read black children's books is tantamount to me asking them to grill their children and eat them for Sunday dinner, maybe you could go on over there and add to the conversation in the comments section. I'd greatly appreciate that.)

(Even more importantly: I'm asking each of you to show Scholastic that we love Derrick Barnes' Ruby and the Booker Boys series and want it to continue by BUYING THE BOOKS. You can get the first four in the series for $20—very reasonable considering the gift you'll be getting in this beautiful series. Buy the books as a gift for a lucky little girl in your life or your local library or a local community center or a church playroom or your doctor's office. Every book sold is a vote in favor of authors like Derrick and me, who spend every waking moment of our working lives dedicated to telling beautiful stories for and about our children—all children. Please: Support Ruby!)

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Friday, March 19, 2010

My Baby Is Getting Grown

I’m pretty sure I hadn’t even wiped the sonogram goop off my belly before I rushed out to my favorite children’s boutiques to pick out fancy dresses, hot pink baby booties and a tin-full of barrettes for my unborn first child, who’d just revealed herself as a girl. I mean, I’d plotted a lifetime for this: I was going to have babies and those babies would be girls and those girls would sit quietly while I weaved their hair into fantastic monuments to the cornrow and curly afro gods, and then, with nary a hair out of place, they’d happily climb into their adorable skirts and matching jackets and patent leather mary janes and skip to school, where they’d be the envy of grade schoolers everywhere.


These days, my 10-year-old doesn’t care about dresses and shiny shoes—she’s all about the funky, bedazzled hoodies, comfortable jeans and ankle boots. And though she was raised on a steady diet of R&B legends, she really likes to shake it to the not-so-classic stylings of the latest pop music stars on the radio. Her favorite childhood cartoon characters are getting kicked to the curb for teen goofballs and razor-tongued tweens. Oh, and the twists she’s been wearing in her hair since she was three? The ones I said were the centerpiece of her signature style? Yeah, let’s just say she’s over them.

My Mari’s got her own ideas about how she wants to dress, and what she wants to listen to and watch, and how she looks—a phenomenon that’s kinda taken me aback. I mean, I’m just getting used to the idea of my daughter being willing—and able—to fend for herself in some small measure, and even that took me by surprise in the beginning; I babied her for a long time, simply because I didn’t really know just how much her independence was growing until I’d literally stumble on it—like, oh, wait, you can cut your own meat? And get your homework done without me standing over you? And dial your papa’s phone number by heart?

Still, it’s one thing to embrace her independence—another thing entirely to loosen the grip and let my baby find her way toward her own self-expression. Of course, I still parent her—if a skirt is too short or a show or song is inappropriate or a celebrity she likes does something dumb, she knows I’m not co-signing the style, culture or behavior. But as she grows, so does her taste, and I acknowledge she has the right to like what she likes (within reason) and that those likes may not necessarily jive with mine.

Now, emotionally, allowing this feels like she’s taken one of my lungs. She’s learning to live. I can barely breathe.

But the thing that gets me through is knowing that my husband and I have done our best to steer our daughter down the right path—our family path. We constantly remind her that the world is bigger than a TV show or a bedazzled shirt or a hairstyle or even our little corner of Georgia. We’ve enrolled her in art classes, so she can learn about the great artists of our time—the Picassos and the Beardens. We let her take Mandarin lessons, because we want her to learn the beauty of a language and a culture with which we have little contact. We let her eat foods like sushi and curry goat and Ghanaian peanut soup to not only stretch her palate but to help our Mari identify on the most basic, human level with people from other cultures.

And we talk to her—constantly talk to her.

About the things that matter to us.

Like working hard. And being humble. Appreciating people for their brains, not just their beauty. The importance of honesty. And staying true to what you love and appreciate, no matter what others have to say about it.

These are the things that stretch far beyond what’s the latest hot sneaker or popular TV show or song to bounce to.

These are things I think matter to my Mari, too—no matter how many bedazzled shirts she has stashed in her closet.

For tips, confidence-building tools and stories about how moms are helping their tweens navigate those sweat-inducing “moments,” check out

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

On Borrowed Time...

I'll never forget the day I found out that one of my best friends, my co-author Mitzi Miller, was living on borrowed time. It was right after she, I, and Angela Burt-Murray (the editor-in-chief of Essence) finished a book signing for our novel, The Vow, at Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem; a woman working on a documentary about organ transplant recipients wanted to interview the three of us for her film, and, all out of nowhere, Mitzi looked right into the camera and told the interviewer that when she'd gotten her liver transplant, her doctors told her the organ would last for about eight years. She was on year number seven.

Of course, I'd known that my friend had had a transplant; when the three of us worked as editors at Honey, Angela and I lorded over Mitzi like she was our child and we her protective mothers—forbidding her to partake in risky assignments for her column, imploring her to get the proper rest and nutrition she needed to be well. But I didn't know her liver had an expiration date—that there was a chance I would lose my friend. And so when the documentarian asked me how I felt about Mitzi's struggle to keep her transplanted liver healthy, I cried. Like, sloppy, ugly cried. No person, let alone my dear friend, should be forced to wonder day in and day out when a part of her body would, quite literally, cease to function—when she'd have to go on a mad search for another liver or face an unspeakable illness that could forever change, even end, her life.

This weighs on my mind every time Mitzi tells me she's not feeling well, for sure. And it's weighing on my mind this week after Mitzi wrote on her blog, Mitzi Moments, a passionate post about needed changes in the way organs are harvested and shared between regions—regulations that lead all-too-many potential recipients endangered. She graciously agreed to let me repost it here on MyBrownBaby. I ask you to read it and, in my friend's honor, take a moment to advocate on behalf of her and the many sick Americans who are wasting away while they wait for life-saving transplants.


Thirteen years ago I was diagnosed with auto-immune hepatitis. As a result, my liver had completely stopped functioning. Basically, I was told that I needed a liver transplant IMMEDIATELY or I was going to die.

Clearly, I received the transplant.

But those eighteen months I spent waiting for an organ to become available were the hardest minutes, hours, days, and months of my life. And not just because I was unspeakably ill but also because while waiting, I watched fellow patients who had been waiting along with me, die. Yeah, I can't explain what that does for the moral... Not.

But the thing is, once I received the organ I was so busy living and catching up on the years I spent dealing with the liver that I started to forget the scariest details of the ordeal. Like damn near everything. To this day, it takes my mom, medical charts and closest friends to help me remember half the craziness that happened... The human mind is so amazing.

All that to say, when I saw the commercial for the premiere of the new season of MTV doc series True Life, True Life: I Need A Transplant, I totally flashed back. And trust, it was not fun. Then, to make matters worse, while doing my monthly blood tests at the hospital last week, my coordinator informed me that things have gotten even worse for liver patients in New York State.

Apparently, nowadays New York State patients experience some of the longest wait times for a liver in the country- 26.9 months. That's more than TWICE the national wait time. Honestly, I just don't know if I would be alive if I would've had to wait almost two and a half YEARS for my transplant. Unfortunately, this increased wait is happening because 1) there are not enough organ donors and 2) organs aren't shared nationally, only regionally. Which means that if an organ becomes available in say California, a patient in New York will never have access.... even if no one is California needs it or is a match.

So you're clear: Over 160 New Yorkers died on the waiting list this past year. Mind you, because of the existing regional system, nearly 1000 viable donor livers are discarded each year at centers with small waiting lists while patients in other regions remain on long wait lists and basically die.


While I'm happy to report that they've recently started lobbying for policy change (there's an important meeting in Atlanta on April 12th that I may attend); we all know how slow that road can be if the regular folks don't get involved. *serious side-eye*

So I'm asking everyone to take a minute out of their day, and contact their representative HERE

Since there's no form letter or petition, I wrote a little something for you to cut and paste:

I know someone who was able to receive the liver transplant necessary to save her life. Unfortunately, because of the existing regional access system and new language in recent guidelines from the government in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010, many others will not be as lucky.

As a voting constituent, I'm asking for you to help fight for changes to the system to include broader sharing.


I promise, this will take 30 seconds and very likely save a life. So go on and be my hero today.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Word(ful) Wednesday: Look At Me...

I'm not really sure if pictures of me as a baby are limited because my parents weren't big on taking them or because I'M ADOPTED and I came into their lives too late for them to get a bunch of shots, but what I do know is that photos of me as a child are hard to come by. But a few weeks ago while I was planning a video in honor of my DAD'S BIRTHDAY, my cousin floated me a few pictures of Baby Denene, and I unearthed a few in my mom's old photo albums. When I look at them, I'm consistently amazed at how much Lila and Mari are my little mini me's; in these pictures, in my face and my eyes and my skin and my smile, I see my babies. And I know for sure that my blood flows through their veins—an amazing thing to consider knowing that these two little people are the only human beings I know, for sure, are of my blood. That still kind of gives me goosebumps.

Just thought I'd share.

For more Wordful Wednesday posts, visit Angie at...

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Princess Tiana Is Official—Plus: The Princess and the Frog DVD Giveaway!

The Princess and the Frog DVD Giveaway is now over—thank you to everyone who entered! And without further ado, the winners are:

Chocolate Covered Day Dreams

Please email your addresses to me at denenemillner at gmail dot com, and I'll pop them in the mail directly. Congrats!

The Princess and the Frog's Princess Tiana made history this weekend when she was officially crowned the ninth member of the Disney Princess Royal Court. The magical ceremony, which took place in the Grand Ballroom at the historic New York Palace in Manhattan, means that Tiana, Disney's first black princess, will forever be celebrated and recognized as a Disney Princess across all divisions of the Walt Disney Company, right alongside Ariel, Aurora, Belle, Cinderella, Jasmine, Mulan, Pocahontas, and Snow White.

How about that?!

I've written HERE and HERE about the importance of Princess Tiana and her movie, The Princess and the Frog, to little black girls everywhere. But this—this takes the character to a whole 'nother level. For the first time ever, I'm actually excited about taking my girls to Disney, particularly knowing that my girls will be able to shake the hand of a princess who looks like them. Mari and Lila? Let's just say they're applying the pressure, and we'll be seeing Tiana up close and personal really soon if they have anything to do with it.

In the meantime, while they're waiting for the in-person meet-and-greet, Mari and Lila are going to settle down in front of the TV this evening to watch the three-time Academy Award-nominated The Princess and the Frog on Disney Blu-Ray. It's being released today and I'm going straight to the store this morning to get our copy so my girls can relive the magic of Tiana meeting her frog prince, kissing his froggy lips, and going on an exciting adventure through the mystical, magical bayous of Louisiana. They can't wait (I suspect that getting them to do their homework and eat their dinner will be quite easy tonight!), and I can't either.

Want to relive the magic with your babies? I'm giving away THREE The Princess and the Frog DVDs on MyBrownBaby this week—each one to be chosen randomly by my little princesses, Mari and Lila, over the weekend. All you have to do is leave a comment naming your favorite Disney movie or character. It's that simple!

If you want an extra entry, tweet it out, with a link to this post. (Be sure to leave a link to your tweet in the comments). You can tweet up to three times for three extra entries.

The winners will be announced on Monday, March 22, 2010. Please be sure to link to your blog in the comments or email me your contact info at denenemillner at gmail dot com so that if you win, I have a way to let you know.

Good luck!

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Monday, March 15, 2010

(Not So) Social Butterflies

So Lila gets an invitation to a schoolmate’s birthday sleepover and before she can tumble off the bus good, she’s shoving the little glossy card in my hand: “Can I go, please, please, puh-leeze, Mommy?”

All that begging and you’d think I don’t let her go anywhere.

And er, um, you’d be right.

Yes, I raise my hand and readily admit that I’m a play date blocker. Like, on the highest levels. If I don’t know your mama, I haven’t been to your house for any significant length of time, I haven’t a clue who all lives there, and your kid’s home-training is a little questionable? Nope—my kid’s not coming over.

Think this is a little excessive? Eh, not in my book. See, my mother was the same way—would look at me like I had four tongues and an extra set of teeth if I fixed my mouth to ask if I could hang out with someone other than her pre-approved list of kids. As far as she was concerned, I didn’t need any more stinking friends. Every last one of the ones she’d hooked me up with went to our church—the children of my mom’s long-time girlfriends. On Saturdays, we kids all hung out at the bowling alley, chewing on steak fries and scrounging for quarters for another game of Ms. Pac Man and Centipede while our parents slammed their bowling balls at the pins. If the ‘rents were feeling particularly randy, we’d all end up in someone’s basement, playing Monopoly and Connect Four and eating bowls of chitlins and collards while our parents talked and laughed about grown-up stuff with the other grown-up folk. And on Sundays, we all shared the same pews—reciting our Bible verses together and singing in the youth choir.

Those kids—they were family. Fully vetted. Millner endorsed. A decent bunch. Mommy could leave me at any one of their houses and trust that I was being well cared for, nobody was filling my head with nonsense or saying and doing inappropriate things in front of me or to me, and when she picked me up, I was a reasonably happy camper—the same kid she dropped off.

These days, things just ain’t the same.

To see how I handle picking the right friends for my kids, CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT (NOT SO) SOCIAL BUTTERFLIES on The Parenting Post at

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Friday, March 12, 2010

I ♥ Keith Olbermann—Like, Seriously.

Food for thought. Just press play and thank me—and especially him—in the comments. Have a fantastic weekend!

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Check Out My Sah-Weet (!) New Blog on Unilever's Don'

By Denene Millner

I’m in the thick of it — that long, slow, delicate march my daughters are taking toward their teens. I see the changes — I’m not blind. There’s hair peaking from those now-stinky underarms, and their curves are pushing against the flowered pockets of their cute little girl pants. My days of shopping in the kids’ section are numbered. Baths full of bubbles, soapy doll babies and that grungy school of rubber fish have been replaced by hot showers with fancy, perfumed liquid soaps.

Bubble baths, you see, are for babies.

And Mari, 10, and Lila, 7, are not babies — they’re quick to let anyone within the sound of their voices know it, too.

I remember that feeling — that deep wanting for my mom to see I wasn’t a little girl anymore. She worked so hard, my mother, and a large part of her not noticing the changes had to do with her not having the time to notice, really. She’d rise up and head down the road to her factory job before sun-up, and get back home sometime after it was so dark I couldn’t see, and then she’d fix dinner and clean her kitchen and say her prayers and head on to bed so that she could do it all over again. Head down, nose to the grind. Respond when there’s a problem.

Thing is, I never felt comfortable going to her with my problems. Like, seriously, who wants to tell their uber busy, exhausted mom that all the girls in gym class have smooth, hairless legs except you? Or that nobody in the entire 5th grade wears pigtails and ribbons? Or that when the cute boy in class looks in your direction, you get so sweaty and sticky you literally go for hours without raising your hand — no matter that you know every answer — out of fear that said cute boy will think you’re some sweaty, sticky, stinky freak?

No, in my tween world, such things were meant to be pondered alone, in the recesses of my too pink, too fluffy, too little girly room. At least that’s what I told myself every time I stared an awkward tween moment in the face.

I don’t want this for my girls, though. Growing up in a society that puts great stock in unrealistic beauty standards and pushing kids to be grown way before their time is tough, but it gets easier if someone is there to grab your hand and say, “come on, baby — I’ll show you the best I know how.”

This is why I’m excited to partner with Unilever, the makers of Degree® Men, Degree® Girl, Dove® and Suave® Deodorant. They’ve asked me to start a dialogue and share my personal experiences with raising tweens on their mom-focused site, Don’ The hope is that my mom-to-mom blogs, tweets, and other social media connections will help mothers like me extend that hand to their own kids — to show their children how to make it through the tough, sticky, sweat-inducing situations they’ll face as they take their own slow, delicate march toward their teens.

I’m not perfect, and I know I’ll make missteps along the way. That’s a part of mothering — a part of being human. But I’m up to the challenge. And so when my Mari asks that her hair be styled a little differently from the twists she’s been wearing since she was two, or Lila asks for a new pair of earrings and stresses they not be “baby” hoops, or the two of them alternately press into my hand a crumpled piece of paper with a classmate’s number and the words “Playdate please?” scribbled across it, I try my best to receive the requests for what they are: My daughters’ bold, brave step toward teendom — a land where looking like a baby is forbidden, independence is plentiful, and there’s a lot of room for exploration, embarrassment, growth and especially mistakes.

I’ll watch in wonder.

And offer my hand.

Because they are my babies.

Always will be.

Even if I’m not allowed to say it out loud.

For tips, confidence-building tools and stories about how moms are helping their tweens navigate those sweat-inducing “moments,” check out

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

MyBrownBaby Is Rocking the Red Pump AND Encouraging Sexual Empowerment

So I blew a gasket when I read THIS STORY in the New York Times last week, about how the largely white staff of an anti-abortion group is running all through predominantly African American churches and colleges around Georgia, telling black folks that abortion is nothing more than a “womb lynching” designed to “kill off blacks.” Buoyed by stats that show black women get about 40 percent of the abortions performed in the U.S., despite being only 13 percent of the population, the group is tapping African Americans to boost the anti-abortion cause—one that has long been identified as a predominantly white Republican tenet. For good measure, the group insists that Planned Parenthood is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to abort Black babies.

Of course, I love me some black babies, and obviously, the last thing I want is to have them killed off. Indeed, full disclosure: I’m pro-life—for me. But I think women should have the right to make the very personal CHOICE to become mothers without the government legislating our wombs.

So what’s got my goat about this group’s efforts to recruit blacks to their anti-abortion cause? Well, the same group of conservative Republicans that are running around telling black teens and young black women to have their babies are usually the first ones to snatch away the support system young mothers need to take care of their children. They say no to everything—food stamps, welfare, raises in the minimum wage, paid maternity leave, childcare subsidies, and any other program that would help lift black children out of poverty, and then demonize black moms for being poor and raising their kids in poverty. What right does any one person have to demand a woman have a baby if that woman knows good and doggone well she can’t take care of that child?

Here’s an idea: Instead of spreading the ridiculous claim that abortion is tantamount to black genocide, maybe those same “black baby saviors” could focus their energies on helping black teens and women protect themselves from getting pregnant in the first doggone place. Let the statistics tell it, and black girls and women are slowly killing off themselves by not doing what it takes to protect themselves during sex. For sure, the numbers of unplanned pregnancies is on the rise among black teens and HIV and AIDS stats show that black women are under siege. Though black and Latina women represented only 24 percent of all U.S. women combined in 2005, they accounted for a whopping 82 percent of the estimated total AIDS diagnoses for women in 2005. And the Centers for Disease Control reveals even more disturbing news:

• HIV is the leading cause of death for Black women (including African American women) aged 25–34 years.

• The rate of AIDS diagnosis for Black women was approximately 23 times the rate for white women and four times the rate for Latina women

• In 2006, teen girls represented 39% of AIDS cases reported among 13–19 year-olds. Black teens represented 69% of cases reported among 13–19 year-olds; Latino teens represented 19%.

Clearly, the reason black women are having so many unwanted pregnancies and contracting and dying from HIV and AIDS is because they’re NOT PROTECTING THEMSELVES. Loretta Ross, the executive director of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective in Atlanta breaks it down best in the New York Times story when she says a lack of access to birth control, lack of education, and even a high rate of sexual violence in black communities creates “a perfect storm” for high pregnancy rates. I would gather the same thing can be said for those high STD rates.

What, then, do we do? Well for starters, we stop it with all the silly “womb lynching” talk and get serious about empowering black teens and young black women with the information they need to protect themselves. This is why I’m Rocking the Red Pump today here on MyBrownBaby—in support of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD). Click HERE to see what you can do to HELP women get tested, protect themselves, and, most importantly, empower themselves to make choices about their sexuality that positively impact their lives. This isn't about politics. It's about saving lives.

Rock the Red, y’all—and teach our babies (and their mothers!) how to protect themselves.

MyBrownBaby is Rocking the Red Pump as part of National Women/Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, with the hope that this post, and dozens more spearheaded by Awesomelyluvvie and The Fabulous Giver of The Red Pump Project, encourages women to protect themselves. A great way to do this is to know your status; click HERE to find a low-cost, pain-free testing site near you. You can find out more information, too, by visiting this special page on the United States Health and Human Services website, or checking out local programs today in your area.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Black Moms in Hollywood: Can You Name One Positive Portrayal?

Be clear: I really do adore Mo’Nique—her humor, her hustle, her demand that we love ourselves exactly the way we are, no matter who stands at the ready to tear us down. And I especially loved her in Precious. Despite that I wrote HERE about my hesitancy to see the movie, I did end up seeing Precious and thought Mo'Nique was scary brilliant as an abusive, mentally-ill, poverty-stricken mom. Transformative. And she deserved that Oscar.

I feel the same way about Sandra Bullock, whom I absolutely adore for being down-to-earth and uber cute. I didn’t see The Blind Side (partly because I’ve grown quite tired of the “white savior” movies that keep creeping onto the movie screen), but I was happy for Bullock’s win nonetheless, if only because I’m a fan of her past work.

But, well, you know there’s a “but” coming. How many more times will Hollywood expect me to plunk down $10 per ticket (plus doggone near another $20 for a bag of popcorn and one of those slushie Coca Cola drinks) to see movies that portray black moms as pathological, drug-addicted, abusive, broke-down, dumb ass, you-ain’t-sh#t-and-ain’t-evah-gone-be-sh#t, baby mamas?

Like seriously:

Monster’s Ball featured a poverty-stricken, verbally-abusive mom who was so dumb that she didn’t realize the son of a raving racist, who was doing things to make her “feel good,” actually killed her child’s father.

The Blind Side was about a white southern mom who takes in a black teenage football player who’s never even had his own bed because, well, his mother is a poverty-stricken crack head who can’t keep hold of her kids.

Precious: Where do I even begin to describe the depraved, inhuman, patently foul infection that was Mary in this movie?

Daddy’s Little Girls features an abusive, foul-mouthed mother who gives up her daughters to take up residence as the queenpin in her boyfriend’s drug organization, and then lets her new man beat up on her youngest daughter and make a drug dealer out of her oldest child.

See the running theme here? I mean I really had to stop and think hard to come up with a movie featuring a black mom who loves her children AND is raising them up right AND isn’t sucking on the pipe/collecting a welfare check/cussing out the babies/depending on others to step in and save her children, and I was hard-pressed to name one. Like, I seriously couldn’t come up with one.

Help me out, MyBrownBaby family: Am I wrong to be annoyed by the portrayal of black moms in mainstream Hollywood? Should I expect more, or is this it for us? I mean, I respect Precious supporters' arguments that we have to examine the good, the bad, and the ugly that happens in our community, but er, um, where is the good? I mean, can you name ONE movie with a black mom with some sense? (No, Denzel Washington/Will Smith/Morgan Freeman/Laurence Fishburne arm candy does NOT count as a positive portrayal of black moms; I want to know which films actually give an indepth, solid delving into the life of a black woman that does NOT portray her as a foul, drug-addled, somebody-please-save-the-babies-from-that-crazy-ass-monster mom).

Two snaps up and a twist to anyone who can name one…

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Monday, March 8, 2010

And the Oscar For Most Embarrassing Mom, Like, Ever, Goes To ME!

My mother wasn't a touchy-feely kinda mom—at all. I mean, she gave a kiss or two here and there if you were saying goodnight or heading off to a sleepover or something, but all that hugging and smooching and laying in the lap and stuff? Yeah, not so much. She loved me, no doubt. But she wasn't loving.

And really, that was okay, because I had my Dad for the handholding and the skipping and the giggling and stuff. The man just loves kids, but he absolutely adored me—reminded me every time he folded me into his strapping embrace—his heartbeat keeping time with mine—or held my hand while we strolled through the mall, licking on strawberry and butter pecan ice cream cones, my tiny feet keeping double time to match his stride.

He lived to make me laugh. And feel loved.

And I did.

And I do.

And I promised myself that when I became a mother, I'd extend the warm and fuzzy to my babies because kissing on them and hugging on them and loving them up was, thanks to my daddy, as natural and beautiful as summer rain.

So with that pretty vision of rainbows and stars and hearts and whatnot dancing in your head, try to help me understand how in the hell I ended up here:

Scene 1
(The parking lot of our local Kroger)

Me: (reaching out for the hand of my 10-year-old, Mari)

Mari: (looking down at said hand, as if it's a steaming pile of poo)

Me: What, you don't want to hold my hand?

Mari: Um… I don't care if I hold your hand or not. (She stiffly holds out her digits for her mom's pleasure.) But if I see someone I know, I'm gonna have to let it go.

Me: (A silent, "Well damn.")

Scene 2
(The pasta aisle in our local Kroger)

Me: Aw shucks, that's my jam! (Insert image of me snapping my fingers and bopping to Stevie Wonder's "As.")

Mari: (Whipping her head around like she's a spy straight out of a scene of Mission Impossible...) Mommy! Stop!

Me: What? What's wrong?

Mari: You're dancing (she tugs at my arm).

Me: (Looking down at my arm like she just sliced it with a knife) What? Dang, I can't dance now, either? It's. Stevie. It's, like, on the law books that you have to dance when Stevie's on.

Mari: Mommy, please stop. Please? (Her eyes darting, trying hard to hold on to that giggle. A trickle of it escapes.)

Me: (Insert image of me pushing the cart aside and cabbage patching and wopping it out, center aisle.)

Yeah, I did it. Yeah, she was embarrassed as all get out. And yeah, I think when she gets older and has her own children and gets to reflecting on the kind of mother she wants to be -- the cold one who rations out hugs and kisses or the warm one who busts moves in the pasta aisle -- she might remember those moments when I took her hand in mine and I broke a sweat trying to make her laugh. When her mother tried to paint the picture of her childhood with rainbows and stars and hearts.

And she just might hold her own daughter's hand a little tighter in the parking lot, even in front of judgmental fifth graders, or dance for her -- no matter who's watching.

Because this is how it should be.

Note: This piece originally was written for my column at's The Parenting Post. To see the rest of my columns there and to enjoy great mom-to-mom advice on raising children, CLICK HERE.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Go Daddy! It's Your Birthday!

The headlines tell the story…

In 1935 Jesse Owens equaled or broke six world records in one hour. The Social Security Act became law. Alcoholics Anonymous was founded, just as the first canned beer made its way to store shelves. Parker Brothers released the board game sensation, Monopoly. George Gershwin’s hit play Porgy and Bess opened on Broadway. A loaf of bread cost eight cents. And the price tag on a new car was six hundred and twenty-five dollars.

But something else very special took place in 1935: my dad, James Millner, Jr., was born to this world. And this weekend, we’ll be celebrating his 75th birthday!

That’s 75 beautiful years—years spent being a son and brother who was loved, a husband who was dedicated, a father who lovingly raised his children, a friend who could be counted on. A man who was—and is—strong.

I don’t write about my father a lot here on MyBrownBaby; he fiercely guards his privacy and is so much more satisfied being humble and living a simple life, and so I respect that not putting all his business out in the street.

But today, I’d like to share one simple, true thing about my daddy: He is my hero. And I love him more than any one person could ever know.

I’ll adore you, Daddy, until the dolphins fly and the parrots swim the sea.


Happy 75th Birthday, sweet man. Keep on living, loving, and enjoying life to the fullest.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

A MyBrownBaby Weekend: Disney's MULAN at The Alliance Theater

After a particularly boisterous, soccer-filled Saturday, Nick, Mari, Lila, and I made our way into Atlanta last weekend to check out the new stage adaptation of Disney’s Mulan at the Alliance Theater. Mulan, the story of a girl who poses as a man, sneaks into the Chinese Army and saves her country, is a favorite around these parts with my girls—two diehard fans of Chinese culture and traditions and any story that ends with the girl being a hero. It was an easy bet that Mari and Lila would enjoy this show.

For sure, there was a lot to love in this stage production: The “girl power” vibes alone make the price of admission worth it. Mulan is a clumsy, awkward girl who is constantly hounded by her family and the ancestors to embrace Chinese tradition, honor her family, and know her place: A girl’s sole mission in life should be to marry and have kids. But when her disabled father is called to war against The Huns, Mulan kicks tradition to the curb and, with the help of a wisecracking dragon, transforms herself into a man and devises a sneak attack that ultimately defeats the enemy, saves the emperor, and brings great honor to her family.

The grand costumes, towering puppets and lush set were a treat; my girls were particularly impressed by how the director used lights, material and shadows to create an “avalanche” on stage, and they enjoyed singing along with Mulan (Leslie Bellair), who powered through a beautiful rendition of “Reflection.” Of course, Mushu, (Bernard Jones) with his tart tongue and gospel pipes, was quite the hit, too.

I dug the tender moments and lessons that informed the play, particularly the message that while holding fast to traditions is honorable, extending love to others is the ultimate way to honor them. I also appreciated the extremely diverse cast, but would have liked to see at least a few Asians on the stage, considering this play was set in ancient China. I also would have appreciated just a few more specific cultural touches that spanned beyond the broader themes of tradition, honor, and the importance of heroism; with a rapt audience of children, it would have been a win-win to incorporate into the play, say, a bit of the language or a few specific Chinese customs—something the kids could have taken away with them, and, perhaps, could have inspired them to go find out more.

Overall, though, it was a fine evening out for The Chiles family—and I know you and yours would love Mulan, too. The play is being staged at Atlanta’s The Alliance Theater each Saturday and Sunday through March 14. Tickets are $20 and $30, but you can get a 50 PERCENT DISCOUNT (!) off adult tickets by using the promo code DISNEY. Purchase tickets at the Woodruff Arts Center Box Office by calling 404.733.5000 or online HERE, at The Alliance Theater.


[Photos by Greg Mooney]

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Word(ful) Wednesday: My Love Affair With Elizabeth Catlett

You don't have to worry about me spending all my little money on designer shoes and fancy purses and overpriced baubles—in my (check)book, these things are a waste of hard-earned cash. No judgement on the stylistas; I'm just saying I prefer to spend my money on other things that hold more value to me: stuff for my house. Like, I'll walk across a bed of white hot diamonds to buy some wickedly eclectic furniture. And I absolutely adore throw pillows, drapes, and stuff for the kitchen.

But there is one thing I love above all of these, and it's African American art. I mean, I surf the net looking for beautiful, interesting artists and artwork like a dude searches for online porn. Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, H. William Johnson, James Vanderzee, Ann Tanksley, Faith Ringgold—you name 'em, I drool over 'em. Like, regularly.

My latest obsession is the renowned artist Elizabeth Catlett. A painter, sculptor and printmaker, Catlett has used her art to make social and political statements, specifically about the fears, struggles, and achievements of African American women. Her work is absolutely stunning—addictive. And as of this week, I'm (finally) the proud owner of a fine art print of Catlett's work (because who am I kidding? I can't afford an original...)—a piece she made while teaching, living, and raising her family in Mexico (such a renaissance woman!). Seriously, I had to have sucked in at least a gallon of air gasping at the sheer beauty of the piece, and really had a problem letting it go long enough to let Nick hang it in a choice spot.

But what really practically brought tears to my eyes was a quote included on the paperwork that accompanied my art work. In it, Catlett said the purpose of her art is to "present black people in their beauty and dignity for ourselves and others to understand and enjoy."

That quote means so very much to me because THIS is what I try to do with every word I write, with every speech I give, with every thought I share. There is so much more to us than what we see on the television and splashed across the front pages of the newspapers and what we hear practically every second of practically every day from everyone from pop culture "tastemakers" to the everyday people who thrive on the negative hype. We. Are. So. Much. More. It truly is my prayer that we collectively wake up and act like it one day soon.

One of these days, I think I'll take a pilgrimage to Mexico to study Catlett's work there. Until I can make that happen, I'm content to visit my new favorite piece of hard-earned art work—Catlett's "Cabeza"—and certainly to gather inspiration to keep presenting "black people in their beauty and dignity for ourselves and others to understand and enjoy."

Thank you, Ms. Catlett.

Thank you.

Note: The first Catlett illustrating this post, one of her most famous, is called "Sharecropper," circa 1952. The second is called "Three Women of America," circa 1999.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Stilettos and 10-Year-olds: A Dad Says, "Aw, Hell To the Nah!"


This past Valentine’s Day I had the pleasure of escorting two lovely ladies out on a date—and neither was my wife. Relax: They were my daughters, and I accompanied them to their elementary school’s annual Daddy-Daughter Valentine’s Day Dance. This was the second year the school put on the event and my girls and I were even more excited this year as the dance approached; I even picked out new dresses for them—hip, girly ensembles for the two. Once we got to the party, the girls and I quickly hit the dance floor, twisting and jumping to a string of Miley Cyrus-Justin Bieber-Jonas Brothers hits, with a few Michael Jackson songs thrown in so us dads wouldn’t feel too out of touch.

After we had been there for a little while, I started noticing something that I found all too disturbing—some of these little elementary school girls, none older than 11, were wearing high heels. I mean, HIGH heels. Not some cute little wedge from Stride Rite. Ten-year-old Mari, in her sensible flats, noticed it, too. (Just like she notices all the other fifth graders with cellphones—which she won’t be getting for at least another three years!). One little fifth grader was sporting stilettos that had to be five inches tall! She would be the one who was nailed to the same spot on the dance floor the whole night because she had no idea how to actually move in the shoes. And the one whose dad went down on his knees a little later to try to massage the pain out of her feet. That one, with shoes that wouldn’t look out of place on the pole down at the local booty bar. Now, I’m not trying to pass judgment on another parent’s decision-making…but what alarming state of psychosis would possess a parent to send a 10- or 11-year-old daughter out of the house in five-inch stilettos?

As I looked around the gym/dance floor, it occurred to me that what I was looking at was my competition over the next 10 years. The enemy. As my wife and I attempt to mold our girls into self-assured, confident, cool young ladies who respect their bodies and insist that everyone else do the same, these other girls represent the tide we’ll be swimming against—a peer group wholly intent on growing up way too fast, eager to dip into grown-up things way before they're grown. We all can identify the many wicked influences that push them into this precocious womanhood—the media, clothing manufacturers, music stars, Lil' Wayne, even clueless parents. I could easily see the social groups forming before my eyes—Mari and her homies were the smart girls, but over there were the fast girls, wearing inappropriate shoes, lipstick on their faces, already gathered together in mean little whispering cliques, pointing, snickering. Having successfully shepherded my son through high school, I'm quite familiar with the “negative influences” in boy world—the too-cool-for-school dudes who spent more time smoking weed and trolling for girls than doing the things that would get them somewhere. But right here in front of me were the “negative influences” of girl world that I would soon be battling.

I was unnerved.

Mari and Lila, oblivious to the dangers that lurked just beyond their doorstep, held my hands, gazed up into my face, laughed, smiled, giggled innocently. I had an urge to sweep them into my arms and run back home with them. Lock them in their rooms, slip their meals under the door. But ultimately that too might do more harm than good, going the other extreme and trying to stash them away from the world. (We all saw Carrie, right?) No, the world and those scary little girls will soon blow through our lives like gale-force winds. All I can do is equip my little girls with special powers that I hope will enable them to march through those winds, relatively unscathed. Daddy love, Daddy affection, Daddy pride, Daddy admiration. Those are the powers I can pass along.

So bring on adolescence. The Chiles family stands poised and ready for it.

(In the immortal words of the late Bernie Mac: Oh Lawd!)

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Monday, March 1, 2010

On The Brown Bookshelf: Me, Mitzi and Our Hotlanta Series!

I simply can not sing enough praises for The Brown Bookshelf, an incredibly rich resource for lovers of children's books written for and by African Americans. The site showcases the rich selection of books for kids every age—from picture books for infants to novels for young adults, plus a fine list of publishers, imprints, and book review organizations dedicated to multicultural children's literature.

Last year, I told MyBrownBaby readers about The Brown Bookshelf's "28 Days Later" campaign, a showcase of 28 under-promoted or little known authors and illustrators of color—one for each day of Black History Month. In the past, the campaign has featured authors like MyBrownBaby favorites Derrick Barnes, Andrea Pinkney, Deborah Gregory, Jacqueline Woodson, and Sharon Draper and illustrators London Ladd and Nicole Tadgell. Each profile features an extensive Q&A with each author and illustrator, giving readers VIP access to black authors and illustrators we would otherwise have had little chance to read about or meet.

I'm SO very excited to tell you all that my writing partner Mitzi Miller and I were featured just this past weekend as part of The Brown Bookshelf's third annual "28 Days Later" campaign. Site co-founder Paula Chase Hyman, a fantastic children's book author in her own right, interviewed us for the feature, which focuses on our three-book young adult series, Hotlanta, our writing process, and our thoughts on the state of the publishing industry as it relates to books for black teens.

I encourage each of you to check out our feature HERE. To see the other incredible authors featured in the "28 Days Later" campaign, including Nikki Grimes, Sharon Bell Mathis, Janet McDonald, and a host of others, CLICK HERE. If you're so moved, please do leave a comment not just for Mitzi and I, but for the folks behind The Brown Bookshelf, who have given an extraordinary amount of time and energy to bringing us thoughtful, quality information we need, want, and deserve.

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