Friday, April 30, 2010

My Dad, My Jheri Curl, and The Hair Wars

For weeks, my mother was in the hospital with a serious back injury, and so it was on my Dad to fix dinner, do laundry, and check homework between all of his “Dad-type” responsibilities. Daddy did all of the mom stuff reasonably well, considering. He leaned a little bit too hard on his go-to dish of smothered liver and mashed potatoes — but my brother and I, we weren’t hungry. And he ruined a few loads of laundry by adding a red shirt or two in the whites — but my brother and I, we weren’t naked, so that was a good thing, too.

Still, when it came to styling his 12-year-old daughter’s hair, my Daddy was useless. See, my mother and I had a standing Saturday night appointment with a tub of hair grease and a hot comb, both of which she used to make my naturally kinky, curly hair straight, and weekdays, it was her duty to make sure I didn’t look like Wild Thang climbing onto the school bus. Daddy? He didn’t know nothin’ ‘bout natural black girl hair, except that it should look anything but kinky and curly. And so only a few days into his Mr. Mom routine, his reasonably cute tween was beginning to look embarrassingly unkempt.

For my sake and his sanity, he did what any self-respecting Dad with little money and even less hairstyling skills would do: He slapped a jheri curl in my hair. One of those generic, style-at-home hair texturizer kits with the “easy-to-follow” directions that promised to transform my kinky hair into loose, wet, low-maintenance, glamorous curls.


Indeed, I like to refer to this dark and scary time in my life as the beginning of Hair Wars, when I spent many a morning dreading going to school with what looked like a fuzzy, greasy afro, and many more evenings begging my Dad to just let me cut my hair and start anew. But Daddy wasn’t having it. A southern gentleman to the core, he believed that hair is sacred — especially if it brushes the shoulders and blows in the wind. He would never let any child of his cut her “crown and glory”’— even if it had turned into a stringy, drippy, afro mess...

To read more about my jheri curl hair wars with my dad, CLICK HERE to read the rest of my post, exclusively at

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Then I'll Say It: Congrats, Sandra Bullock—AND baby Louie!

Sandra Bullock's announcement that she is the proud mom of a new baby boy got a lot of attention yesterday for a lot of reasons, but it wasn't just because she kept little Louis' adoption a secret while she dealt with her soon-to-be ex-husband's creeping. Seems that folks are in a tither over the fact that Sandra's son is a brown baby. For sure, my "google alert" for "African American baby" was full of Sandra Bullock stories, as if she's the first, last, and only mom of an African American child. And then there was this from the Twitterati:

Sandra bullock loves black ppl. Blind side, Regina King in Ms Congeniality & now she adopted a black (american) baby. Clap 4 her LOL

Did Sandra Bullock adopt a black baby? I thought that fad had pass in Hollywood just like small dogs in LV bags.

Wish I cud adopt a black baby like Madonna, Angelina Jolie n Sandra Bullock...OH WAIT... I can produce dem frm ma own lovely uterus :)

Sandra Bullock is taking this "Blind Side" thing too far...

I mean, good grief: I get the fascination, I guess; Sandra is white, her son is a black boy she adopted from Louisiana, a state she fell in love with after putting in some Hurricane Katrina volunteer work... blah, blah, blah. But really? Are we still seriously questioning whether it's okay for white parents to adopt black children? In a country where black folks make up 12 percent of the American population but 31 percent of the children waiting to be adopted? And the last possible child to be adopted by anybody—no matter the color—is a dark-skinned black boy? Why the vitriol? She's not about to take little Louis and grill him for dinner; she's vowing to love him strong and raise him right. Why, for God's sake, is this cause for concern? Debate? Snarkiness?

Of course, transracial adoptions can have their complications; there'll always be questions about whether the children are getting enough exposure to folks who look like them, or whether the parents will be sensitive enough to the unique needs of black children. And while I agree that white parents who adopt black kids should be just as passionate about their children's cultural education as they are an academic one, I'm not ever going to suggest that black children should languish in the bowels of the foster care system until someone who looks exactly like them comes along and opens their homes and hearts to them.

I was lucky: My parents, both African American, took me home when I was but a little baby—four days after someone, presumably the woman who gave birth to me, left me on the doorsteps of an orphanage. I am forever grateful to them, and eternally in love with them for loving me unconditionally, and raising me with grace. I would feel the same way about them if they were white.

I'll bet you that 40 years from now, Louie will say the same.

So I'll say it, even if way too many are focusing on sillier things: Congratulations, Sandra—welcome to the mommy club.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Paying in Sweat at World Fitness Day

Um, yeah.

I never could strike that Jane Fonda leg-warmer pose. My legs are too heavy.

Seriously, I'm not going to lie: I have a love/hate relationship with exercise. Get me in the room with some African drums and my incredible dance instructor (and friend!) Sauda (as chronicled in THIS POST), and it doesn't matter that I can't dance a lick—I'm swaying and bending and leaping my way to a more fit body, and having so much fun that I'm telling everyone I know that I'm addicted to exercising. But let me walk into the great room in my basement and see the treadmill all dusty and lonely, laying up against my good walls, and I'll cuss out that big hunk of machinery like it stole money from my mama.

I guess you can say that I can't really be left to my own devices when it comes to staying fit. I do my best to eat right—not only for my sake, but for that of my family—and my girls and I are good for inspiring each other to get in a good work out at group classes, like belly and pole dancing. But outside of that, I need a bit of inspiration to get my work-out on at home.

On Saturday, May 1, I'm going to get a stadium full of inspiration to get moving, for sure, when I take part in World Fitness Day. The brainchild of actress, author, philanthropist and fitness icon Jane Fonda, World Fitness Day is an annual initiative to highlight the importance of staying active and fit. I'll be joining literally thousands of Georgians on the field of the Georgia Dome—home of the Atlanta Falcons—to participate in a one-of-a-kind group workout with celebrity fitness and health experts Richard Simmons, Billy Blanks, Denise Austin, dancer/director/choreographer Debbie Allen, and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger also will deliver a video tribute—I swear, if he says, "I'll be back," it will make my millennium!—and The Pointer Sisters will pump up the crowd with live renditions of some of their greatest hits. Ludacris will also kick a few verses for the cause.

Tickets to participate in World Fitness Day are $75 a pop (though if you register now, you can get 50% off by CLICKING HERE); you can come alone or bring a bunch of friends and come as a team. If you want to just cheer on your peeps and get workout tips without moving, tickets are only $25. Kids ages 12 and up, accompanied by an adult, can participate, too; their tickets are $25, too. To register, form a team, or become a workout sponsor, CLICK HERE.

The event will benefit the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, the nonprofit organization Fonda founded in 1995.

Not planning to be in Atlanta on May 1st? You can still participate in the workout by logging on HERE to check out a live feed of the event on UStream. Tune in and you might just see me getting my sweat on and doing my best Debbie Allen imitation:

You want fame? Well fame costs. And right here is where you start paying... in sweat.

Get it Debbie! And Jane! And Billie!

And Denene!

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

MyBrownBaby Mom: Malaak Compton-Rock


Congratulations to Ms. Understood, Joyce the Writer, and Malaka G., who will each receive an autographed copy of Malaak's book. Thanks everyone for participating!

If service to others is a gauge of a human's heart, then Malaak Compton-Rock's is as tall as Mt. Kilimanjaro and as wide as the Caspian sea. For sure, Malaak, wife of comedian/actor/film producer Chris Rock, is a do-gooder—a dedicated mom who's living quite a fulfilled life serving and giving to others. She's headed up no less than five organizations dedicated to helping everyone from women moving from welfare to work, to orphaned children and people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa, to at-risk kids from Brooklyn recruited to participate in a two-week mission to serve others and experience the world (the latter, her Journey for Change: Empowering Youth Through Global Service, was featured on CNN's Black in America 2). More recently, she's dedicated her attention to The Angel Rock Project, an online e-village that promotes volunteerism, social responsibility and sustainable change, and authored the new book, If It Takes a Village, Build One: How I Found Meaning Through a Life of Service and 100+ Ways You Can Too. The book, part memoir, part guidebook, details Malaak's own experience with service and gives the ABCs on things like how to research charities, how to find the right volunteer opportunities, how to get kids involved in a life of service, and even how to start a nonprofit. It's an amazing legacy that Malaak is leaving for her daughters—one that, no doubt, will make them equally strong, powerful, courageous women. Just like their mom. Here, Malaak shares stories about her greatest love—her brown babies—and her dedication to raising smart, fun children who share her passion of service. AND (!) she's giving away THREE AUTOGRAPHED COPIES of her book, exclusively here on MyBrownBaby (read on for details). Without further ado, MyBrownBaby Mom Malaak Compton-Rock:

My name is... Malaak Compton-Rock.

I live in... New Jersey, 20 minutes outside of New York City.

My brown babies are... Lola Simone, age 7, and Zahra Savannah, age 5. We also have Ntombi, who is 2 years old and from South Africa. She visits our family often and is our pride and joy.

I make a living... giving speeches, writing, and doing occasional TV work. I also run a nonprofit program for teens, but defer my salary.

The last time my kids cracked me up is... everyday, but they really cracked me up at the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards this week because they were so nervous meeting Justin Beiber and the other celebrities. The five-year-old said, "I can’t move, I can’t walk, my neck is too hot!” That really made me laugh. Now we can’t stop asking her if her neck is hot.

The last book I read with my kids was... Frindle with Lola and Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy for Zahra. She is loving this book right now.

My favorite place to take them is... Houston’s restaurant followed by Barnes & Noble’s children’s book section. This is a Saturday ritual and staple for us. We also love to go to the park. Van Zandt park in Paramus, New Jersey, is a favorite because it has jungle gyms for all ages, a small zoo, a train, merry-go-round, and pony rides. We love it and can stay all day. I also love to take them to our local nail salon for mani/pedi’s, followed by a trip to Acorns, a local children’s bookstore.

My proudest mom moment was... seeing Zahra so proud of doing her math work for me during a parent visit at school. The smile on her face, the happiness in her eyes, and the confidence in her soul were almost too much to take. Lola recently accompanied me on a mission to Ghana, where we met rescued and current child slaves in Kete Krachi, who are enslaved in the fishing industry on Lake Volta. I was so proud of the way she interacted with the Ghanaian children and how involved she was in our work to learn more about child slavery. And she basically understood that all children are the same and set about playing and chatting with them as she would any child.

The thing I most want my children to know is... “to whom much is given, much is required.”

The one family tradition I hope my kids continue when they grow up is... putting on music and dancing at night as a family before going up to bed, and making every holiday, even the little ones, special and memorable.

If I could invent one thing to make mom life easier, it would be... something that would keep my car clean and snackproof. I cannot stand a messy car as it makes my mind go to mush. I often make a rule that the kids can’t eat in the car because they are too messy and don’t clean up after themselves, only to break it the very next day carpooling from school to an activity. Oh, what I would do for an “instant-car-cleaner-upper thingy.”

The best invention for kids ever is... the sippy cup hands down for toddlers, and the rolling backpack for big kids, since we are always on planes. I also really liked the scented bags for diapers when they were younger. I think the portable potty for my car and the large seat covers that stick are both a must-have.

The kid snack I am most likely to get busted eating are... fishies, their cereal, and drinking from a juice box.

The most important life lesson I want my kids to learn is... to “treat others as you would like to be treated,” and that it is important to always remember, “if I get there before you do, I am obligated to bore a hole and pull you through.”

The one thing no one knows about me is that... I am a mean cook. I can throw down in the kitchen.

The thing I lost as a mom that I wish I could get back is... sleeping in on the weekends and then waking up and reading the paper from front to back; getting a massage without wondering what the kids are doing, and then not feeling guilty for leaving them to get a massage instead of relaxing; being able to read more than two pages in a book at a time; sleeping in a bed without feet in my face and back; and not falling asleep in the movies because of lack of sleep.


Three lucky MyBrownBaby readers will win a copy of Malaak Compton-Rock's new book, If It Takes a Village, Build One, autographed by Malaak! The book, a testament to Malaak's dedication to the service of others, is an incredible guide to how we all can help those less fortunate than us—in big ways and small ways too—and find fulfillment in it. The book can be purchased on Amazon for $24, but Malaak Compton-Rock's autograph is priceless.

Here’s how you enter: Visit Malaak's The Angel Rock Project website (CLICK HERE) OR check out a video of Malaak on Oprah, giving tips on how to get kids involved in service CLICK HERE TO SEE THE VIDEO and then come back here to MyBrownBaby and leave a comment about something you learned about Malaak's foundation or her kid-friendly service suggestions. You must leave your comment by 11:59 p.m. EST on Wednesday, May 5, 2010 to qualify to win.

Want to enter more than once? Boost your chances of winning by completing one or more of the following tasks:

1. If you haven’t already, sign up for MyBrownBaby’s email updates by 11:59 p.m. EST on Wednesday, May 5, 2010. To be eligible, you must verify your email subscription when Feedburner sends you a verification email. Your entry will be invalid if you do not verify. If you would prefer to get MyBrownBaby updates via an MBB RSS feed, please leave a comment letting me know you’ve done so, and include an email address, as RSS subscribers are anonymous.

2. Buy one or more of copies of If It Takes a Village, Build One on Amazon HERE, and email a copy of your confirmation order to For every purchase of her book between April 6th - July 6th, 2010, Malaak will donate $1 to The Global Fund. CLICK HERE to learn more.

3. Become a MyBrownBaby Google Follower.

4. Tweet about this giveaway: "I'm rocking The Angel Rock project for a chance to win @mybrownbaby and @arproject." (You can tweet this message up to five times—once per day. Please leave a separate comment for each tweet. While appreciated, extra tweets beyond the alloted five will not be counted.)

5. Follow @mybrownbaby or @ARProject on Twitter.

6. Fave MyBrownBaby on Technorati. After you do this, come back to MyBrownBaby to leave a comment with your Technorati user name so that I can verify it.

See? That means each of you can receive up to 11 entries. Two winners will be chosen via, and contacted via email. This contest is available to U.S. mailing addresses only. PLEASE LEAVE A SEPARATE COMMENT FOR EACH TASK YOU COMPLETE. This is the only way that your extra entries can be counted on

Well… what are you waiting for? Go ahead—Angel Rock is waiting!

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Boycott Arizona

Last week, I had the distinct honor of attending a dramatic reading, poetry slam and awards ceremony for the Marel Brown Creative Writing Program, an arts and cultural enrichment program administered by the Boys and Girls Club of metro Atlanta. I gave a speech meant to inspire young writers, but I was the one who walked away with the gift; these children, with their poems and their puppet shows and their dances and their readings, moved me in ways that reminded me why I fell in love with writing, and especially why I adore children.

But it was one club in particular that moved me to tears. The group of about 10 girls did a dramatic reading of a play about the children of illegal immigrants; in it, each child took turns relaying what it feels like to have high hopes for integrating into our culture and grabbing hold of the American dream, but live in constant fear that their already fragile home lives would be unravelled by their parents' illegal status. In one scene, one little girl tried to comfort her sister by helping her practice English while they lay in bed, waiting for their mother to arrive home from work. Even as they spoke of their hopes of learning the language, they were worried sick that their mother's tardiness was a sign that she'd been "taken away just like Papi." There was real fear in their voices—and sadness. So much sadness. These children, no more than 10 or 11, brought home for me just how tenuous are the lives of children who, through no fault of their own, can never, ever get comfortable here in a country (of immigrants) that has displayed, under no uncertain terms, that they don't give a flying fig about immigrants (of color).

It is this that I was channelling when I read THIS STORY about Arizona enacting a law meant to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants. According to The New York Times:

(the law) requires police officers, “when practicable,” to detain people they reasonably suspect are in the country without authorization and to verify their status with federal officials, unless doing so would hinder an investigation or emergency medical treatment.

It also makes it a state crime — a misdemeanor — to not carry immigration papers. In addition, it allows people to sue local government or agencies if they believe federal or state immigration law is not being enforced.

Any reasonable person can see where this is going, and I'm going to raise my voice in calling it what it is: Racial profiling. You can not tell me that police will be stopping blonde-haired, blue-eyed Arizonans and checking their wallets for immigration documents, or that their "reasonable" suspicions of who is an illegal won't focus on our Latino and Mexican brothers and sisters. Hell, I got a couple people in my family that could pass for Latino; if they find themselves in Arizona, they better keep their drivers' licenses handy, lest they find themselves on a flight headed South of the border.

Here's what's got my goat: Whenever there are any threats from government enforcement of immigration laws, or changes in them, the place where you see the impact the quickest and most severely is in schools. A lot of these families have a precarious enough lifestyle as it is, which sometimes makes it difficult for their kids to stay in school for an entire year. But when they fear that the school may become a place where a family will be targeted, they'll keep their kids home—thus keeping the family trapped in poverty for another generation.

The beautiful thing about America has always been the way immigrants could use education to lift themselves—the ranks of millionaires and billionaires in this country are filled with people who came here with nothing, got an education, and created a product or business that improved the lifestyles of us all. In fact, there have been many complaints by the science and computer departments in our universities that our tougher immigration laws are keeping brilliant, creative minds out of the United States, and those people are taking their talents elsewhere. Imagine if the immigration laws of today were the same 20 years ago: There would be no Google.

Now, I'm all for making folks caught trying to sneak across our borders turn it back around until they can find a legitimate way to get up in here. What I'm categorically against is harassing the ones who are here already, and certainly dragging legal American citizens through the mud to get at the illegals, many of whom, at the end of the night, just want to make it home from a hard day's work to their children—children who might be sitting next to your kids in class, or kicking around with them on the soccer fields every Saturday, or taking turns with them on the swings at your local park, or just living their lives, trying to be something bigger and better than their mothers and fathers could have ever imagined. These children may be your children's friends. Their mothers may be passing out cupcakes at the end-of-the-school-year party. Or a fellow member of your PTA.

You never know.

Lest we forget, we moms of color and moms of children of color know exactly what racial profiling is and how devastating it can be to be targeted by law enforcement simply because of the color of our skin. Racial profiling is real and humiliating and infuriating—and leaves everyone on the opposite end of the nightstick feeling so very powerless. I say we stand up in solidarity with our fellow people of color and boycott Arizona (it wouldn't be the first time; we gave a collective middle finger to that state years ago when John McCain refused to support the bill that eventually made Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a federal holiday): don't go to or hold any conventions there, don't vacation there, and don't support any businesses based there. And while you're at it, sign THIS PETITION calling on your fellow Americans to do the same.

If for no other reason, do it for the children.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

On the MyBrownBaby Table: Green Bean Arugula Salad


Picture this: Thirty minutes to make dinner, starving and demanding mouths to feed, a need to integrate greens in a delicious way, and a Naturi Beauty recipe to save the day!

Sensational salads for a spectacular spring—that’s what the weather calls for and it’s what’s for dinner. This entrée salad features crisp green beans, peppery arugula, smoked salmon and tangy lemon pesto with a creamy goat cheese. I promise, the hubs will dig it, the children will love it and you'll be ecstatic that you actually got them to enjoy salad greens.

Creamy Green Bean & Arugula Salad with Salmon and Pesto Goat Cheese

What you need:

2 cups green beans, fresh
1 crown broccoli, cut into bite size pieces
1 bag arugula
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 lemon, zested
4 oz. goat cheese
2 oz. pesto sauce
1/3 c. mayo
2 garlic cloves, minced
smoked salmon
salt and pepper to taste

How to make it:

1. Steam green beans and broccoli until tender with a slight crunch, about 10 minutes.
2. Remove from steamer and toss with minced garlic; set aside.
3. Mix lemon zest, pesto, mayo and goat cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Combine red onion and arugula and mix well with dressing; it helps to use hands to make sure greens are well dressed—get the kids to help!
5. Add green beans and broccoli to the mix and combine so that dressing coats all vegetables.
6. Plate and top with smoked salmon.

Serves 4

Want more delicious recipes like this? I'll be cooking up more mom-friendly dishes tomorrow at the inaugural With Mom in Mind™ conference, an Execumama/Naturi Beauty event designed to help moms relax, release and relate. The event will be held April 24, 2010 from 12:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. at the Studioplex on historic Auburn Avenue, here in Atlanta, GA. TIckets are $40; for more information, click HERE.

About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Shelley Chapman is a culinary artisan whose passion for "natural, from scratch, quality ingredient meals" led her to consult on meal preparation, planning and holistic consumption as a personal chef for her company, Naturi Beauty Concepts. She offers private culinary services in the Atlanta area, specializing in Vegan and Vegetarian cuisine with a global influence. For more tasty vegetarian/vegan recipes, please visit Shelley's blog at Naturi Beauty.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Celebrating Our Beautiful Earth

I was going to have Mari write a "Earth" poem like the one she wrote HERE, or get Lila to draw a beautiful picture celebrating Earth Day—maybe post a few tips on how we could be better about reducing, reusing and recycling, like those I found HERE. I even considered posting Marvin Gaye's "Mercy, Mercy Me," the ultimate Earth Day anthem. Each of these things was meant to remind my MyBrownBaby friends to protect our planet at all costs. After all, we have but one Earth; who are we to do anything but revere all that the Lord has made?

And then I started flipping through my iPhotos and came across some breathtaking pictures—each one of them taken over the past year as our family made a much more conscious effort to enjoy nature and the great outdoors. I'm more of a keep-it-in-the-house kind of girl, but I have to admit that I really enjoyed breathing in the fresh air and admiring the wonders of nature. Here, our year-long celebration of the Earth, in pictures. My hope is that you'll be inspired by our journey, and perhaps create some beautiful outdoor memories of your own.

Snow Balls, February 2010
Lila and her best friend, Maggie, got a kick out of seeing who could make the biggest snow ball!

The Secret Life of Bees, April 2009
When our cousin found a wall-wide beehive nestled in the porch wall of his house, we got a lesson on bees that we wouldn't soon forget. Mari waited patiently while the beekeepers got the job done.

Spring Flowers, April 2009
Who can resist spending quality time out on the front lawn when Spring is in bloom? We sure can't!

Mother's Day, 2009
Sometimes it's the simple things, like watching your children run and play and giggle in the park, that make Mother's Day the most special.

Carnival B-Day Party, June 2009
What do you know about egg races, hoola hoop contests, and water balloon tosses? I can tell you they're GREAT summer party games, especially if you're partying outdoors. This is Lila, dead serious about winning a pack of gummy bears for keeping her hoola hoop going the longest.

Camping Trip, June 2009
A whole weekend outdoors. With bugs. And weird night noises. And campfires with s'mores and lots of great grilling. Not sure I want to do this again—but I will have stories for the grandkids!

Hilton Head, July 2009
Our family vacation in one of the most beautiful towns we've ever visited—full of great history and natural beauty.

Kentucky Wind Mills, August 2009
I shot this picture of the incredible flat lands of Kentucky while riding with The Blogrollers back from BlogHer 2009. Man was that ride fun—matched only by the scenery of our beautiful country whizzing by.

Black Butterfly, August 2009
Black butterfly/Sail across the waters/Tell your sons and daughters/What the struggle brings. (Man, I love that song—that Niecy Williams sure can belt it out, can't she? This butterfly, which we found in our driveway, was a source of endless fascination for the kids.

Gone Fishing, September 2009
The kids had a blast getting fishing lessons from their Uncle Marvin, but it was my mom-in-law, Helen, who schooled everybody when she caught three fish!

Our Garden, September 2009

Every year the girls and I plant and maintain a container garden out on our back deck; the rosemary, thyme, sage, peppermint, flat-leaf parsley, cilantro and basil give our food the best zing, and the colorful flowers keep butterflies and hummingbirds aflutter just outside our kitchen picture window. We tend our garden with love.

Soccer Game, November 2009
The girls stayed active out on the soccer field—the perfect way to get in some exercise and enjoy the outdoors.

Martin Luther King Day, January 2010
This is my beautiful nephew Miles, who volunteered at this year's MLK Day celebration in Atlanta, at the MLK Center, a national historic park site.

The Great Snowstorm, February 2010
We actually got enough snow to make two snowmen. This one, with carrots for eyes and a nose and a random Gap hat (because our snowmen are supa fly!) was pulled together by Mari.


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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Real Friends Don't Call Friends "The Maid"

Miss Millie: You kids are so clean. You wanna come work for me? Be my maid?
Sophia: Hell no.

—from The Color Purple

These lines, and Sophia’s subsequent beat down at the hands of a mob of white men who didn’t take too kindly to a black woman expressing, under no uncertain terms, that she had higher ambitions for her children other than for them to scrub floors for the rest of their lives, came to mind yesterday when I read THIS MADNESS over at Dr. Wendy Walsh, a white mom of a biracial daughter, questioned whether our “historical trappings” over the use of slurs have “loosened”—whether we’re “so far past the tragedies and injustices of the past” that this new generation can make light of” the “N” word and other insults historically reserved for people of color without assigning any meaning to them. The mom’s query came after her daughter, who presumably looks black (or at least something other than white), revealed that she calls her best friend, who is white, “blonde”—as in “dumb blonde”—and the best friend calls the biracial girl “maid”—as in, “back in the days of slavery, you would have been my maid.”

This whole expanded definition of the "blonde and maid" friendship didn't soothe me a whole lot. But it did get me thinking about how terms of endearment are sometimes slurs that, spoken in the privacy of an intimacy, imply, "This is our special word. Our joke. This separates us from the world and bonds us together."

The mom goes on to suggest that the “affectionate” nickname her daughter’s white friend has assigned to her is not much different from the use of the “N” word by “many African-Americans… within their racial circle,” or the “loving, intimate way” an old boyfriend proudly called her his “N.” “I accepted it with love,” she writes.


I. Can’t.

But I will.

Um, you can do all the convenient self-reflection/analytical thinking/tap-dancing you want to, but the bottom line is this: Where I come from, calling a black child a “maid” would earn you a Ms. Sophia-styled cuss out if you’re lucky, a sound Shaniqua-esque ass whooping if you say it to the wrong one. Best believe, Mari and Lila would surely know better than to let any child, much less a white one, refer to them as servants. For sure, I asked my 10-year-old, Mari, what would be her reaction if a friend called her “maid” for fun, and she said, simply, “I would think it was kinda racist and I’d ask her not to say it again.”

Now, if a 10-year-old gets this, why all the questions from the “maid’s” mother? Venture a guess, but I’m thinking she doesn’t get it because she’s never known—and never will know—what it truly feels like to be called the “N” word and know that it was hurled at you from a person with a hardened heart and a palpable explosion of hate toward people with brown skin. She has no clue how it feels to be followed around the drug store by store workers who think she’s about to steal something—just because her skin is brown. She hasn’t a clue what it feels like to feel virtual steam rise from the top of your head when you get sat next to the bathroom at the restaurant and then get ignored for half an hour because no one wants to serve you—just because your skin is brown. And clearly, she’s never been out with her baby at the park, only to have a fellow white mom press a phone number in her hand with instructions to call her if she’s looking for a new nanny job—the white mom’s assumption that she’s on the playground strictly to watch over and wipe the asses of other peoples’ children and not your own.

But her daughter will know firsthand how hurtful that hate and those assumptions are. Because at some point, someone is going to get a gander of her brown skin and call her out of her name—and it won’t be done “with love and affection.” It’ll be done because the name-caller will think the color of her skin makes her inferior, and he’ll want her to feel inferior, too. And when (not if, but when) that happens, it won’t be all giggles and good times for her or her child.

Instead of simply pontificating on whether it’s okay for her daughter to be called “maid,” my sincere hope is this mother sat her daughter down—and her little friend, too—and explained to both of them the “you should know better” of this situation—that it’s NEVER a good idea to let someone refer to you in a way that can be even remotely construed as derogatory, disrespectful or racist, no matter the name-caller’s intent. For starters, it’s neither cute nor funny. And the moment you LET someone refer to you that way is the moment that you co-sign everyone else getting in on that action.

In other words, they both need to know that wrong is wrong and racism is real—no matter what color the president is, no matter how many kumbaya moments we’re engaging in with other races, no matter how far white folks think we’ve come.

Anything less is akin to this mother letting her daughter and friend play with matches without explaining to them that they’re dangerous and could burn the house down.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Soar With the Angels, Dorothy Irene Height (3.24.1912—4.20.2010)

Black women are the backbone of every institution, but sometimes they are not recognized as even being there, even in the civil rights movement.

There was a myth across the South that the only two free people were the white male and the black woman, and that black women had better chances at jobs. Well, that was because they scrubbed floors.

We've got to work to save our children and do it with full respect for the fact that if we do not, no one else is going to do it. We're not going to allow ourselves to be told that we cannot function, that we dysfunction.

Frederick Douglass said, 'In the struggle for justice, the only reward is the opportunity to be in the struggle." You can't expect that you're going to have it tomorrow. You just have to keep working on it.

—National Council of Negro Women President and Chair Emeritus Dorothy Height in her own words, as excerpted from I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America, by Brian Lanker

Today, we lost the backbone, our spine—an angel who's sole concern was standing up for us and our babies when, it seemed, no one else would. With a strong voice. No fear. Lots of mettle. And God by her side.

Soar with the angels, Dorothy Height. Activist. Feminist. Leader. Visionary. Beautiful. And loved.

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Room To Spare

So four more months and Mazi will be headed to Lafayette College.

Which means... SPARE ROOM!

What? Ain't no shame in my game. Before the back wheels on his suitcase get over the front door threshold good, I'm pulling the crime scene tape off his bedroom door, donating his bed to the Salvation Army (or maybe we should burn it), emptying the rest of that sucker out, and turning that bad boy into something really adult and special. At dinner last night, we all plotted what we'd do with our newfound space:

Mari: It could be a second guest room.

Nick: Exercise room!

Lila: I know! We could put a couch in there and hang some pictures and sit and look at them. Like a museum.

Me: Oooh! Oooh! I got it! *snapping my fingers, dramatic pause for emphasis* A craft room! I could move my sewing machine in there and make more drapes and practice drawing and doing collages and...

Mazi: *pouting* Um, we could leave it just the way it is.

Dead. Fish. Eyes.

C'MON, SON! #getdaf*ckouttaherewitdatbullsh&t!

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Celebrating—and Finally Loving!—My Curves

Editor’s note: I wrote this piece after a riveting conversation with the brilliant T. Allen-Mercado of Tea & Honey Bread, who is exploring body and self-love in her Sweet Tea Tuesdays series on Moms of Hue.

For years, my ass was my enemy. I hated her. She tortured me. No matter how hard I tried to stuff her into baggy pants and A-lined dresses, no matter how many thick, wool sweaters I wrapped around her, no matter how many ridiculous diets I committed to—the cabbage soup diet, the lemonade diet, the no-carbs diet, the eat-nothing-but-air-for-breakfast-lunch-and-half-of-dinner diet—I couldn’t hide her or make her go away.

I wanted to, though. Wished it with all my might. The stories are legendary, and, if you’re a “coke bottle” black girl, all-too-familiar. I grew up in a town where black boys wanted anything but what I had—curves, chocolate skin, a brain and my big brother’s mean muggin’. And I was raised and reared at the hand of a black woman who knew that eventually, what I had below my waist would be at a premium around some real brothers. I was all-at-once undesirable and a potential tart. A veritable Venus Hottentot—grotesque, untouchable, shameful and sexual, but certainly not sexy.

Then I got around some boys from Brooklyn. And Jamaica and Africa and Compton and Mississippi. All places where black men appreciate the art form that is a black woman’s curves. I distinctly remember the night I realized there is, as the comedienne Phyllis Yvonne Stickney once immortalized in a comedy routine, “power in the booty”: It was during a fashion show my friends had talked me into modeling in. Backstage, the producer was searching for someone tiny but curvy enough to fit into and look dead right in a tight, red, leather mini dress with sky-high black pumps, and the only somebody who could fit into it was, well, lil’ ol’ me. I didn’t want to wear it; it was tight and body-hugging and short and sexy—the exact opposite of every stitch of clothing in my closet. She might as well have asked me to walk naked out on that stage. But the producer was about the business—not my protestations. Before I knew it, she was squeezing and pulling and tugging me into that dress and pushing me out onto the runway and I was facing the spotlight and an audience full of guys who all seemed to move closer to the foot of the stage when they got a gander of what I was wearing—and specifically, all of what I’d squeezed into it. Let’s just say I gained a few, um, fans.

I was still uncomfortable with all of this, though, even as I forged a career and stumbled into womanhood and built a life on my own. Even dating and eventually marrying Nick, the King of Ass Men, didn’t change the perception I had of myself. I mean, this man has loved me inside and out, up and down, fancy or plain, clean or dirty, sweet or attitudinal, fresh or sweat, fly or foul. And I swear to you, every morning I open my eyes, this man tells me I’m beautiful. No matter, though: I still thought I was too curvy—that what I had needed to be hidden.

Getting pregnant changed all of that.

There’s nothing like the miracle that is procreation and the birth of a child to remind a woman just how incredible her body is. Honest to goodness, every inch of the parts that I railed against all the way through my late 20s became a huge asset—pun intended—when it came time to usher my children into this world. My booty is round and dense, my thighs thick, my hips wide—what you could call the perfect birthing body. My first baby was born after just three hours of contractions and 20 minutes of pushing. My second was out in three pushes.

My lower body is strong. Solid. Supple.

Perfect for what it was meant to do.

And even though I now have a two-baby booty and a little post pregnancy pot in my belly, a few stretch marks that weren’t around before and a couple extra pounds, I’ve fallen in love with me. All of me. I chalk it up to a certain level of confidence I gained when God put me in charge of two little human beings—two little girlpies who look to me for guidance and strength and clues for just, like, how to be. I’ve written HERE about how I’m trying to help Mari get comfortable with her inheritance; even at the tender age 10, it’s clear she’s got her mama’s figure. And with every lesson I teach her—every ounce of self-esteem I pour into my baby—I learn to love myself even more, without reservation, without hesitation.

Don’t get it twisted: I know I’m not perfect. But that’s the beauty of it. Honestly, when I saw Erykah Badu’s controversial “Window Seat” video, in which she strips naked in the middle of Dealey Plaza, I applauded her not for being edgy or questioning groupthink or inviting people to assassinate her work, but because she took off all her clothes and walked with confidence in her thicker, curvier, not-so-perfect-but-still-fly mommy body. She was walking like she meant it—like she was clear in her own mind that she’s comfortable with exactly who she is.

And as a 41-year-old mom of two I birthed and a third I’m helping to raise, I can say I feel the same way.


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Friday, April 16, 2010

Green is the New Black!

So how fly is my sister-in-law/BFF/resident environmentalist Angelou? So fly that she's in Washington, repping her non-profit children's environmental group, Greening Youth Foundation, at a White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors. Newark Mayor Cory Booker is there. Governor Bill Richardson is there, too, as are the heads of the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency. And sometime today, she's scheduled to meet favorite guy, President Barack Obama!

The conference is part of President Obama's ongoing conversation about the greening of America, and Angelou is onboard to talk about how to include both people of color as well as kids and young adults in the Green Revolution. It is a mission that is a passion of Angelou's, and she's done some pretty incredible things with her foundation: Her team teaches children in a dozen schools throughout the Atlanta area how to respect and protect the environment; she's lined up several summer internship programs for high school and college students in the nation's national parks, and; she's become quite the outspoken advocate on behalf of organizations working to get black folks engaged in green initiatives.

Most heartening is Angelou's work with the babies; indeed, not even 24 hours after Mrs. Ezeilo finishes up in Washington, she'll be back here in Georgia throwing her second annual Earth Day Festival, which will play host to hundreds of kids who'll exchange recyclables for chances to ride and play in Greening Youth's "green" park full of giant bounce machines and slides, mazes, and fun games. Plus, she's got 14 vendors on deck, including REI, Kroger, Nike, and even the Boy Scouts, to carry out the fun festival’s mission to properly dispose of hundreds of pounds of recyclables and educate the students to effective ways to reduce, reuse and recycle.

If the success of last year’s event is any indication, GYF’s Earth Day Fun Festival will make quite a difference for the environment. In it’s inaugural year, the GYF festival collected: more than three tons—6,000 lbs—of large electronic recyclables like computers, printers, scanners, fax machines, stereos and speakers; about 200 pieces of portable electronics, including cell phones, cameras, PDAs and computer games; about 400 pairs of sneakers; about 100 cubic feet of grocery bags and 400 cubic feet of paper and cardboard, and; more than 100 batteries, plus a few odds and ends, including linear fluorescent bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs and even a car!

And as if she doesn't have her hands in enough projects, Angelou and her team released a video yesterday announcing a new online reality show she'll be producing, which will chronicle the journey of GYF interns set to become one with nature and the national parks this summer. Here's a sneek peek:

For sure, I'm so very proud of my little sis! Check out her Greening Youth Foundation HERE, become a FaceBook fan of her organization (on the right lower side of her foundation's homepage), peep her on the cover of our local county magazine, Our Town, and, if you're so moved, please leave her a few words of encouragement as she works in Washington to open doors and breathe new, fresh life into the Green Movement.

Angie? You're THE ONE—love you, girl!

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

To Hell With Marriage Vows

I've been itching to write about all this cheating husband mess running all up and through Hollywood, but my girl/co-author Mitzi of the hysterical Mitzi Moments said all that needs to be said on the subject and then some:

It looks like the state of marriage continues to rapidly deteriorate. Not only did lameass Tiki Barber leave his pregnant wife of 11 years for an intern but it seems Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon's husband has also been outted for his five-year affair. So how many celebrity husbands are in the shit house behind women probably not worth the gum on the bottom of my shoe: Steve Phillips, Tiger Woods, Shaq, Jesse James, Tiki Barber... Nice, very nice.

Keep it classy ya'll.

But not for nothing, there's been such a varied response to the cheating by all the wives. Don't ya think? Let's see: ESPN analyst Steve Phillips' wife sued him and homegirl; Elin chased Tiger's ass with a golf club; Shaunie O'Neal snatched the kids and went to LA; Sandra straight disappeared; Ginny Barber immediately started crying to the press, and; good 'ole Garcelle... Well Ms. Thang sent a damn email to the ENTIRE talent agency where her husband works. Mmm-hmm, talking about:
"I found out today that MY husband of almost 9 yrs has been having an affair for 5 yrs with some slut in Chicago. I am devastated!!!! And I have been duped!! Our boys don't deserve this!"


I gotta say, it's been a bad run for unfaithful men over the past seven months. And sure, I'd like to be optimistic about the situation. Cause you know, not everyone has to put his hand on the fire to figure out that it burns. But it's just... I mean honestly? Interns, waitresses, low budget internet porn stars, party promoters and your homeboy's fiancee? It's a lot. Le sigh.

Jesus be the secret bank account in your mama's maiden name.

And this right here is why I love me some Mitzi: She's a fool all day, er' day—and she always gives it straight, no chaser. Check out more of Mitzi's musings HERE at Mitzi Moments or check her out on Twitter at @mitzimoments.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wordful Wednesday: A Spring Break Family Affair on St. Simon's Island

I was looking through iPhoto on my desktop earlier today and came across these pictures—snapshots of a spring break vacation our family took with Nick's sister, Angelou, her husband and kids, and Nick's parents. Words can't describe how much fun we had together—not just because we went somewhere absolutely amazing (St. Simon's Island), but because we vacationed as a family. Here, a recap in pictures.

St. Simon's is off the coast of Georgia—a jewel of an island I learned about years ago after watching the breathtakingly beautiful art house film, Daughters of the Dust. The history here is amazing—particularly that of Africans and African Americans; that house my brother-in-law, James, is standing in front of is the last standing blacks-only, one-room schoolhouse in St. Simon's, and I couldn't resist taking a picture of the street sign leading up to the school. You know "Mama Lou" had to be somebody special! After visiting the school, we rode bikes into the center of town and saw this great big ol' tree; the kids couldn't resist climbing it. And then we found Ebo Landing, the shoreline where, legend has it, a group of people kidnapped from Nigeria and brought to America to be slaves got off the slave ship, turned around, and walked back into the water, chanting and singing songs of freedom. They drowned themselves rather than be slaves (the story is chronicled in the famous, The People Could Fly children's tale, and was recounted in Daughters of the Dust). Rumor has it that the people who live in the houses surrounding Ebo Landing occasionally hear singing, chanting and clinking chains—the souls of the Africans revealing their presence. We closed our eyes and listened intently, but heard only the sweet whisper of the wind and the rustling of the leaves. Still, we all took the time to pray over the waters—to send up the timber for the ancestors.

We stole away from St. Simon's to take a day trip to Jeckyll Island and Sapelo Island; the latter is home to the descendants of a family of slaves that worked the Chocolate Plantation in the 1800s—a family that, to this day, lives an authentic Gullah lifestyle. To see the island up close, you must travel there by ferry, and then hire a bus tour to take you to see the sights. For a few extra dollars, we convinced a driver to take us off the beaten path to see the remains of the tabby slave houses of the Chocolate Plantation; we also saw the lighthouse up close, and, some amazing wildlife, which was extra special for my sister-in-law/BFF Angelou, a passionate environmentalist (who's on her way to Washington today to participate in a White House symposium on the environment—woot woot!). If you really focused, you could see some amazing wildlife, too. Can you find the alligator?

We rented a beautiful house just a short walk from the beach, and the kids made sure we got our beach time every morning. The Spring chill didn't stop them from digging into the sand; there were enough mud pies to feed a small nation. While Lila drew love notes to her mommy in the sand, her grandfather looked out over the ocean—reflecting on the beauty of all that God has made.

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