Scandal And The Problem With The Invisible (Black) Man

Photo Credit: Hollywood Reporter
Photo Credit: Hollywood Reporter

“Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.” ― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

“I’m standing right here,” Harrison said last week, demanding to be acknowledged as Abbey and David have a quite intimate sexual conversation in his presence. But his words are quite symbolic of his position during the three seasons of Scandal, ABC’s hit one-hour drama. Ten episodes into the season, hope for Harrison to step out of the shadows is fleeting. Instead, he appears to be fading away, like an invisible man.

Known for his episode defining one-liners like, “We are gladiators in suits,” more than his own storyline, Harrison is the most stagnant character of all . The fans have long noticed, but there were recent signs of life. After a two-season drought of absolutely NOTHING to add a layer to his back-story or current love life, season three has stalled on its promise to deliver. So far, we’ve got an exchange of threats between Cyrus and Harrison, a shirtless scene with a little inappropriate bedside manner and even less context; then there is that 30 second scene when a woman we’ve never seen walks in Olivia Pope’s office, tells Harrison to keep his phone on, and walks out. That’s it…since September!

He is quickly becoming a nobody; a one-dimensional, lackluster dolphins in a sea of sharks who often looks confused and out of place. Everything seems to just be happening around him. Once, a powerful presence, his character is quickly fading into the background. This troubles me even more because he is a Black man. While I maintain that Shonda has the most diverse cast in primetime television, I have always struggled with the representations of Black men on this show (for the sake of keeping this conversation focused, I won’t mention the challenges I have with the struggling character development of Black men on Private Practice and Grey’s Anatomy).

Before quickly dismissing me as a “hater,” stop early. I am a fan of the show. And I hear you fellow Gladiators when you say, “But Alexandria, what about that life-giving monologue delivered during the finale by Olivia’s father, a Black man, to Fitz??” Yes Lord! That scene gave me chills and the writing was brilliant! Yes, of course I saw the socio-historical reference of this older Black man calling this white man in a position of power a boy. But before I could fall too far in love, that same man had been fired, humiliated, and professionally castrated by the very man he just declared was beneath his pay grade, having his words served back to him cold: “If you cut off the head, another one will grow in its place.” So, you’ll have to forgive me if I want something more.

Eventually, I hope, in true Shonda fashion, that some great storyline will come from the depths of TV writing heaven, swoop down and take us all away to glory, making this all worth the wait. With such a long awaited faction of the show, they have no other choice but to do Harrison justice. The question is, for the love of gladiators everywhere, WHEN??

Why does any of this matter? Because I sat and watched a two-week mid-season Winter Finale twist and turn around almost every single character ripe with a spousal murder, a hostile take-over, and a double cross 3 episodes in the making. But, no Harrison. Not one thing.

There is something left to be desired by his absented presence and it needs to be addressed. Here are three reasons why:

*Harrison Is A Good Man (we hope!)
Compared to the other male characters on the show, Harrison is a prince among men. He is not a lying, backstabbing politician. He is not a manipulative Washington puppeteer sleeping with anything in a skirt. And he hasn’t killed anybody…yet. From what we’ve seen, he is dedicated, loyal, and a strong, trustworthy ally to Liv and her crew. Plus, as one of only four Black characters, three of which are Black men, Harrison needs much more context than he currently has because he’s been there from the beginning.

In season two, we were introduced to two other Black male characters significant to Olivia’s life. First, politician and love interest, Senator Edison Davis was presented as handsome, sweet, and well, let’s face it, weak. Yes, weak. Not an episode went by where Twitter and Facebook were not blowing up behind how docile he seemed to be, and how he was just no match for the powerhouse of Olivia. No chemistry or comparison to the passion and intensity of her former elicit romance with President Fitzgerald. Even though Edison is supposed to be a Senator, he seemed to be unable to do anything for (or with) Olivia.

The second man, we only knew in brief, yet chilling, cameo appearances until we discovered that he was head of B6-13. Oh yeah, and by the way, he is Olivia’s father. Commander Rowan “Eli” Pope is deliberate, calculating, manipulative, and vicious. The more we learn about him, it’s clearer how dangerous he really is. And after the way he read Fitz while he sat cuffed in a torture room, it is clear that he is not to be underestimated. The Sappy Senator and Daddy Pope provide two far-reaching extremes of masculinity and behavior that play right into typical archetypes of Black men: aggressive and violent or inadequate and feeble. Thus far, Harrison sits somewhere between the weak and the wicked. Adding some layers to his story may provide a much-needed opportunity for the show to see a powerful, complicated, yet compassionate man of Harrison’s class and swag.

*Harrison is the only one WITHOUT a story!
With very little present and even less of a past, how can we expect to believe Harrison as a Gladiator in a suit? We can’t, especially when every other leading character has evolved in some meaningful way. The longer that this is the case, Harrison will be confined to a one-liner sidekick.

In fact, we rarely even see Harrison outside of the work he does with the team. What is he doing when Huck is at AA meetings with Quinn sneaking closely behind? Or when Abby is sneaking off to have an affair with nemesis David Rosen? We pretty much only see him on the job. Far be if from me to complain about watching Columbus Short stand back looking handsome in a suit. However, in seasons one and two, every leading character experienced a major change, contributing to the storyline of Scandal, and complicating the game all the more. This of course is with the exception of our dear Harrison.

Think about it. Quinn has an incredible back-story that led the first season to a confusing, yet exciting cliffhanger. Now, she is in some crazy double-cross set-up, sleeping with the enemy! Then, there is our loveable assassin. #whatthehuck was trending everywhere! We learned more about his previous life then we ever thought possible. Now, in every new episode, Huck is the central connection to black ops org B6-13. We even see reporter James Novak shift in his family and career goals as husband to the sinister Chief of Staff, Cyrus Beene. And the lovable, yet elusive all American hero, Jake shocked us all with that stealth move at the end of last week’s episode. But when will the crumbs that were left behind thus far lead us home to Harrison?

*Harrison is Becoming Irrelevant.
Without his own story, Harrison’s authority is diminished. Right now, his presence and his contributions to the story are irrelevant. We need Harrison to be fully human; to have a life, a family, or a love interest; anything that makes him a whole person. We are rooting for him to win!

Despite the slow progression, there has been a slight arc to Harrison’s character. In the midst of assassin Huck’s breakdown, we see Harrison step up to be Olivia’s head partner at “the firm.” It is thrilling to see him leading client meetings, giving tactical orders to the team, and rallying them together in Olivia’s absence. However, I can’t help but feel his power is underscored by his insistence on being there time and time again as the strong second-in-command when Olivia’s gut is off, wrong, or broken. In more than one episode, Harrison volunteers, in true gladiator fashion, to lay down his life for her, assuring her that he will do what ever it takes to help her figure it out. On multiple occasions, their encounter looks like this: Olivia stares blankly at her foot solider, often refusing to answer his questions, and coldly walks out of the room without an explanation, literally ignoring him. #whattheharrison!

Without a story of his own, Harrison is a sidekick, just a simple accessory to go with Olivia’s fabulous wardrobe. My hope for Harrison is what gladiator’s everywhere are waiting for. Harrison’s time has come, and before Season 3 is done, we better get it!

alexAlexandra Barabin is a writer, public speaker, and cultural facilitator. She is the Founder of Sun Up Business Management and, a community dedicated to women and girls. She can be contacted at


The Disappearing Black Man on HBCU Campuses

Black students in classroom

The influence of HBCU’s and education can be seen in the 105 historically black colleges and universities educating 135,722 male and 238,685 female students across the United States this year alone. A new school year is beginning for HBCU’s, students are preparing to return to schools  across our nation. Students and their families are shopping, packing and scheduling for college or university trips to HBCU campuses either close to home or several hundred miles away. The traveling may be by bus, plane, family car, train, carpooling or other means, the objective is to get students back into school, preparing them for future careers. I have prepared to make sure my son gets back to Florida A&M University to finish his final undergraduate year and preparing him for Graduate school of his choice.

HBCU’s have been preparing for new freshmen and returning students, the process to prepare dorms, cafeterias and other facilities to support higher educational learning is nearing completion. The excitement is rising for a year of educational achievement, progressively striving for the goals of graduating and receiving a degree that was earned with hard work, sacrifice and dedication.
The history of HBCU’s is well known nationally and internationally, the service of Historically Black Colleges and Universities is not praised as much as they should be, this is excepted because HBCU graduates know they receive an education that has prepared them for excellence in their fields of study and passion to positively contribute to mankind like so many from the past.

A growing issue on campuses of HBCU’s are increasing female students. Visually there are more females than men. It is almost eerie to see so many female students and a small mixture of male students. Not only are there smaller numbers of male students, but male students are not graduating in the numbers like female students. To add insult to these academic injuries male students seem to be challenged academically more than females in the important areas of math and reading comprehension. HBCU’s see that Black male students are diminishing , this absence creates a vacuum of educated professional Black men serving as role models to Black males in high schools that strive to obtain higher education, but do not have a mentor or role model in their families or even neighborhoods.
The U.S. Department of Education: the national college graduation rate for Black men is 33.1 percent compared with 44.8 percent for Black women. The total graduation rate is 57.3 percent. Black men represent 7.9 percent of 18 to 24 year olds in America but only 2.8 percent of undergraduates at universities. President Obama has stated that, “HBCUs continue a proud tradition as vibrant centers of intellectual inquiry and engines of scientific discovery and innovation. New waves of students, faculty, and alumni are building on their rich legacies and helping America achieve our goal of once again leading the world in having the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.”

The question is raised are communities, schools, churches and businesses doing enough to encourage Black males to excel in academics? The school closures in Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and other cities show that educational resources are diminishing and parents in these communities need support and help. Condemning Black children also are weak Black Churches, what are Black churches doing, what impact does the clergy have in the 21st century educational realm and politics? At one time in history Black churches were the corner stone’s of education, they had schools, tutors and resources.

The discrepancies of attendance and graduation can be seen from data accumulated from the Department of Education where national college graduation rates of Hispanic men is 41.1 percent, Native Americans and Alaska natives 33.8 percent. The comparison in graduation to White males is 54.5 percent. Asian/Pacific Islanders have the highest rate, 60.6 percent, based on their cultural respect for learning and education. If theses discrepancies continue the education gap for Black males will create situations where Black males have less earning. The skill levels will be substantially low not allowing access to higher paying careers, lack of education influences political influence, low socio-economic levels and the in-ability to provide for a family. Because of statistical evidence HBCU’s still play a very vital role in educating Black males especially those that will need additional assistance in reading, literacy, comprehension and mathematics.

An example of the changes in college campuses can be seen at Howard University, undergraduate male enrollment dropped from 3,070 in the 1994-95 academic years to 2,499 during 2009-10. Female enrollment dropped by only 52 students, from 4,958  to 4,906. HBCU’s are still strong in encouraging Black males to attend college by providing services that address both academic and cultural uniqueness.

Complicating these efforts in high schools are the changes in the structure for mandated state assessments, increase in discipline policies at high schools that leave no room for counseling and mentoring. Incarceration policies appear to be the only option if a student makes a bad call in judgment and actions in high school. The key to success of Black male and female students is parental and community involvement. Parents must have a vested interest in their children’s success. The costs of not having a college education is seen in limited job opportunities, reduced earning potential, stunted career  advancement and negative long-term economic and social downturns in the Black community.

Black males need solid careers with competitive wages, without solid incomes and steady careers,
young Black males chances for success diminish greatly. A question asked by Mr.  Lowe from Courageous Conversations Ask A Teacher: “Why are certain elements in American society trying to keep Black children from being educated?” As a graduate of South Carolina State University,  in the area of education I learned the skills to be an effective educator, the support that I received even struggling in math and science allowed me to build  my confidence, abilities and even grow a love for science and mathematics. Inspiring me to obtain years later a Masters of Education degree in Educational Technology and teaching Engineering and
Technology at the elementary level.

“Black men and women need college degrees more than ever.” William Jackson, STEAM Educator Resources should be made available to help Black males be successful in higher education, but starts in public education at elementary schools to high schools. The lack of male role models, mentors and educators does play a role in diminishing enrollment of Black males in higher education. Research on Black males on campuses shows that having supportive relationships with mentors on campus plays a significant and important role in Black male’s success.

Parents as you take your children to college and university take the time to find out about mentoring services, clubs and organizations that can aid in your child’s success in college.  It takes a village to raise leaders and the next generation of college graduates.  The statement “Its more than about buying new clothes,” is important for parents to recognize and understand this school year, Hafeeza B Majeed

Courageous Conversations Ask A Teacher Dialogue:  Listen in about key issues to help students succeed and parents take a more active role. Archived about Common Core, parental involvement and impact on children:

Blacks Can’t Wait On the President

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Where do we go after the second election of President Barack Obama?

I want it to be known, that I’m proud to have Barack Obama as the President of the United States of America. I’m proud of his ability to lead and to be a role model. That being said, Blacks Cannot Wait on President Obama to make things better for them. President Obama has written another historic chapter in American history. The shift of cultural acceptance has happened in the political spectrum of this country. The people have spoken by their votes. This will be the second term for President Obama’s administration and his family.

It should be known that even though America still has a Black President the House of Representatives and Congress may still be controlled by Republicans. This will make another four (4) years a challenge to make continued progressive change in our country. The reality is there is still prejudice and racism in America, not in the gross levels that the news media attempts to show. If racism was so bad I do not believe that President Obama would be our President for another four years, voting creates change. This shows that even the media must be scrutinized for their political views and the influence they try to generate in society.

My direction in the blog is: Where do Blacks go from here? Where do Blacks go, what direction economically, educationally and politically should be traveled? Blacks have the best role model that they could have, a Black President and truly unmistakably a Black First Lady in Michelle Obama. The most powerful Black man in the Free world, the Commander in Chief of the most technologically sophisticated and weaponized military in the world. He is a product of the educational system of the United States, struggled in school, was bullied, and not the best student all the time. He shares this with other students as he speaks at schools around the country, and takes the time to build students up to see their potential to become greater than he.

This is the ultimate role model, one who acknowledges his flaws and weaknesses and always works to pull the youth up to pass his accomplishments in the future. So why are too many Blacks still caught in mental and emotional slavery claiming there are no good role models? Even Jacksonville, Florida has a great role model in Mayor Alvin Brown; he is visible in the community, supportive of public education and sets a good example as a father, husband, community activist and supporter of progressive growth for all people, but Blacks should see him as a guide to the importance of education and self-improvement.

Similar actions and events took place in1964, Cleveland OH in a different venue, but with the same challenges for Blacks. What has happened to The Negro Revolt and Where Do We Go From Here? or What Next? This was stated by Malcolm X, the same person who went through a transformation from thug, hustler, drug dealer, gambler and other societal deviations to a man that educated himself, became a father, leader and role model.

Don’t look down on this man, because some of our politicians, priests, preachers, bishops and even educators have past lives that may remain hidden from us. Malcolm X statement that, “In my little humble way of understanding it, it points toward either the ballot or the bullet.” This reference is addressing the political situation of Blacks during the turbulent times of the sixties and seems to be present in the 21st century. What has changed?

During the sixties there was no Barack Obama making eloquent, intellectual and moving speeches there was Adam Clayton Powell Minister Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York, Dr. Martin Luther King, Atlanta, Georgia, Asa Philip Randolph, Jacksonville, Florida, Civil Rights Activist, Rutledge Pearson, Jacksonville, Florida Civil Rights Activist and Reverend Galamison Minister in New York to name a few involved in the school boycotts to eliminate segregated education. These were real people with dedication and a vision to make progressive change to benefit Blacks. Their legacy will live, but too many Blacks have forgotten them.

There have always been role models for Black men and women, but truth be told Blacks must take responsibility and accountability to make progressive change by unifying. Making a commitment that needs to last beyond street protests, religious radicalism, songs, dance, videos, raps and pledges.

The commitment that lasts beyond the doors of churches on Sunday mornings designed to make Blacks “feel good” and accept their plight of second class citizens, diminishing political power, and dwindling economic development. Where do Blacks go now that the jubilation and excitement is over? The time to work is now, the time to establish a vision and mission is now. Civic and community problems still are alive and well, in order to solve these challenges it will take the collective wills and hard work that was found during the 50’s to 80’s. That self-determination seems to have died; evaporated even as the lyrics of “We Shall Over Come” have evaporated from the minds of millions of Blacks because of their perceived freedoms that are as transparent as their abilities to seek to improve themselves. How can a people that died for the right to be educated look down and curse education?

Satisfied in too many cases to live month to month on welfare, food stamps and a third class education. Complaining because they are so use to getting a third class handout that their cries seem to sound like the cries of slaves that accepted their servitude with exuberance and satisfaction. The comments by Malcolm X rings truthful even in the 21st century, “it’s time for us to submerge our differences and realize that it is best for us to first see that we have the same problem, a common problem, a problem that will make you catch hell.” So called Black political leaders complain, blame, degrade and demean President Obama, but my question is after all these years, why have THEY not motivated Blacks to improve their lives instead of blaming President Obama? Why are they not visiting inner city schools, homeless shelters, welfare lines, food stamp facilities to work to give a hand up not lip service and empty promises?

How can our religious leaders lay claim to being like Jesus or disciples when they tear down President Obama, lyrically damning him just as Judas Iscariot sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of gold? President Obama is not Jesus, but he represents our country to the world. He should be respected, held accountable, but not openly disrespected. Why wait for a Black man that is supposed to be the President of the United States, not the President of just Blacks. Many people will disagree with me, but that is the beauty of living in the nation of freedoms, we can agree to disagree and not be jailed, beaten or killed like in other countries.

I agree that President Obama must be held accountable, but he cannot cure all the social ills that plague Blacks. Just as our economy was destroyed by someone else, Blacks have allowed themselves to be castrated physically, psychologically, economically and educationally by blaming others for their inaction, inattention, and ignorance. If you do not believe me, look at our inactive parents that refuse to come to parent-teacher conferences, look at the lack of support for school PTO’s, School Advisory Councils that need parents to participate and support, and listen to the excuses that drown out the cries of screaming babies as girls lay on their backs and make babies, but refuse to respect teachers and learn to read to improve their lives first before spreading their legs to become impregnated and again spreading the same legs to give birth to illegitimate children. Don’t be mad at me for the truth, what would Dr. King say now???

The cycle continues each generation, becoming a slave to welfare and drowning deeper in Hellfare and poverty. Too many Black boys would rather rap, dance, be comedians and sag than engage in learning. They bully their peers that want to be intellectuals, scholars, scientists, educators, politicians. Too many Black young men would rather be hard and ignorant instead of educated and empowered. Anthony Butler, Jr, Founder of E3 Business Group displays a unique change during his transformation in his unique presentation that shows how you can grow from thug to entrepreneurial. This empowering presentation should be seen by all Black youth, “Accuse Yourself of Success!”

Malcolm X made a profound statement that we all catch hell, ”whether you’re educated or illiterate, whether you live on the boulevard or in the alley, you’re going to catch hell.”
“We’re all in the same boat and we all are going to catch the same hell.” The idea is
“If we have differences, let us differ in the closet; when we come out in front, let us not have anything to argue about until we finish making progressive and lasting changes in Black people.

It should not take the death of Trayvon Martin or any more young Black men or women to unify people against injustices in the criminal system and self hatred in our communities. It should not take the threat of cutting welfare, diminishing of food stamps and elimination of governmental handouts for Blacks to finally get they need EDUCATION, Are Blacks like the Hebrews wondering the desert until several generations die before God can use them? IS that to be our legacy for the next centuries?

Blacks Can’t Wait On the President: The President has made numerous speeches to what end?
Blacks have to WANT to change, WANT to work to be better, WANT to have political and economic equality. Until then Blacks will be politically, economically and educationally weak and ignored. Blaming others even those they elect to fix social challenges that are decades old.

Change can only come from within, when Blacks are tired of being beaten into economic slavery of poverty, the slavery of psychological ignorance of accepting failure in schools, enjoying the self destruction of drugs in their communities, the visual slavery of music videos that glorify free sex, cultural violence, the slavery of producing children that are born into ignorance and taught ignorance, will learn ignorance and stay ignorant until they are jailed or killed and companies make money from them as incarcerated slaves… If you are angry good, go out and volunteer at a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, the library to teach people to read. Go to your child’s school and support teachers not curse them out for trying to teach your child. Tutor and mentor a young person, take yourself back to school for a skill or a degree. If you cannot do these simple things to better a better person then you are always a part of the problem and not part of the solution.

The institution of slavery is still present and strong, but instead of the fields there is Hellfare, Drugfare, Sexfare, and denial ending in death and destruction.

Blacks Can’t Wait On The President

William Jackson, M.Ed.
Educator, Speaker,
Mentor, Father
Community Activist

The Demise of the Black Television Actress

Maxine Shaw “Attorney At Law”, although my academic leaning would later be geared towards the PreMed track, you could not have told adolescent “me” that I could not be as fly, as funny, and as smart as Erika Alexander’s character on the television series Living Single. Sure, I appreciated the other characters on the show, the loony but lovable Sinclair, the seductive Regaine, and the witty and reliable Khadijah; but I saw myself in the assertive and intelligent Maxine. The magic of Living Single revolved around the fact that the show depicted the different types of Black women in our families and social circles, and not just in their personalities, but also their body types and complexions. I would watch every Thursday night, along with the other shows that made up my “Must See TV” line up: Martin and New York Undercover. Here was a collection of diverse Black women all being shown in a positive manner.

Even before Living Single first premiered, at a younger age, I would watch Claire Huxtable on the Cosby Show, and would marvel at how much she looked like my own mother, and was even more amazed by the fact that she carried herself like my mother too. She was educated, intelligent, calm collective, funny, nurturing, but strict! Like my mother, I found Claire Huxtable to be so classy and non-stereotypical. My mother was not the type to roll her eyes, raise her voice, snap her fingers, whip her neck, or use profanity. Like Claire she didn’t have to employ any of those “Angry Black Woman” tactics to be a respected disciplinarian and matriarch.

Then, what about the Spin Off, A Different World, where we were introduced to characters like Julissa, Whitley, Freddy, Denise, Lena James, and Kimberly Reese? Yes, Kim played by Charlene Brown, she was a PreMed major like I wanted to be, and she was the epitome of the statement Black Is Beautiful; with her dark chocolate skin, big eyes, full lips, and shapely hips. I can still remember the episode where those strikingly African features brought her to tears when she had to adorn clothing that reminded her of a “mammy”, only to later peel off those layers and proudly reveal the African beauty that she was.

I reminisce and can’t help but notice that something has happened. Turn on your television and you will have difficulty in finding a Black actress, particularly in a prominent role. You literally have to LOOK for us, and unfortunately when you find us, it will not be in traditional roles or in a positive light. Instead, Black “actresses” and pseudo-celebrities are being casted on surreal “reality” shows shucking for the camera. Gone are the talented and classically trained actresses, they have been replaced by Black women who would rather indulge in stereotypical and derogatory behavior for the world to see. The danger here is that life often imitates fiction (and yes it is fiction, because these shows are highly scripted), and the degenerative behavior will be emulated by viewers; particularly those who are younger and impressionable. Even more problematic is that these images are broadcast around the world, and gives a false view of the American Black woman. It helps to uphold long-standing stereotypes and misconceptions, and even affects the manner in which Black women are treated when they travel abroad.

We can only hope that the pendulum will swing the other way. Perhaps through letter writing campaigns, demands for more inclusive and positive programming, or simply turning the television off. Once again, we can only hope. Maybe the transformation will come about when we begin to pen our own stories and actually support these shows when they air. If not, we will continue to witness the inevitable demise of the Black television actress.

Cherise Charleswell
Eclectic Life Books
September 2012

Cherise Charlseswell is a published author, writer, poet, model, health researcher, contributing writer of Lady Influence; host, producer, & creator of Wombanist Views radio program, creator and lead designer of Eclectic Life, Associate Director of the Los Angeles Black Book Expo, and the California State Representative of the National Black Graduate Student Association. She is currently working on the book projects “The Link Between Food, Culture, & Health in the African Diaspora” and “Walking In The Feminine: A Stepping Into Our Shoes Anthology”.

The Worst Day Of Your Life Might Be The Best Day Of Your Life

We all go through days that seem to take all of our strength to get through. Sometimes, we have experiences that are life changing and we don’t know how or why it’s happening to us. My grandmother experienced this over 50 years ago. As a young wife and mother, Mrs. Hattie Virginia Jones decided to start working to bring in some extra income. At the time, my grandfather was the sole family provider. They had a house full of children and were living on limited funds. The extra income from my grandmother working was helpful. She enjoyed being able to buy her children extra Christmas presents.

Jam & Grandma

However, they were living in government housing aka “the projects.” Due to her additional income, however minimal it was, authorities said she was making too much to continue living there. My struggling grandparents, with a house full of children, were kicked out and forced to pack up everything. Some would expect my grandmother to be bitter about this situation. But instead, decades later, she used it as a testimony. She said,”The day they kicked us out of the projects, I thought it was the worst day of my life. But now I’m glad. Because if I was never kicked out, I never would have bought a house.” Years later she bought a second house.

Someone told this story as one of her many testimonies at her funeral this past March. The house that my grandparents bought is full of memories from my mother’s childhood and my childhood. I picked plums off the trees in the back yard. I slept beside my cousins and shared peanut butter syrup sandwiches. Even as a college student, on summer breaks I’d go to grandmother’s house and sleep beside her like a little child. And even as she lay taking her last breaths, that house is where her children gathered to sing hymnals, pray, and hold her hand as she went home to be with God.

Grandma & her first Great Great Grandchild

When my grandparents were kicked out of the projects, my grandmother didn’t know what was in store for her. She didn’t see the treasure and foundation that she was about to create. She thought it was the worst day of her life. It turned out to be the beginning of a long loving, memory filled journey that impacted the lives of all the generations she nurtured. When she died, her legacy was continued through her 6 children, 14 grandchildren, 12 great grand children and one great great grand child. Every one of us spent our childhood in the house she never would have bought, if she hadn’t been kicked out of the projects.

The worst day of your life, might be the best day of your life.






JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of & To reach JAM, email her at

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Still Haven’t Been Able to Pass that Darn Paper Bag Test

By Khristi L. Adams

Photo Credit:
Spekulator -BSK

Colorism rears its ugly head again. Twice in one week has the issue (and yes, I dare say, issue) of color complexion among African Americans come up in conversation. The first time was in reference to an old article that some very witty young writer wrote asking the question, “Why Does Alicia Get a Pass and Fantasia Doesn’t?” She was questioning the publics scrutiny of Fantasia’s alleged infidelity and Alicia Keys who, prior to marrying Swiss Beats, was in the same position but to many it seemed…cute. She dared pose the question, “Is there a color complex at play in this infidelity circle?” Alicia and Swiss are superstars. Who was Antwan Cook anyway but a tatoo on Fantasia’s body?

Color complexion discrimination was the furthest thing on people’s minds because we’re supposed to be PAST that! Well, after putting it out of my mind a bit, while having a conversation with an old friend, he mentioned to me that he knew a gorgeous actor in the media that most women have been gawking over since his on screen debut a few years ago. And when I playfully asked him to “hook me up” he simply (and without effort) responded, “Well you’re not really his type. He likes the light brights.” So I stopped for a minute and thought to myself, “Wouldn’t you know, I still can’t pass that darn paper bag test.”

Just as Michael Eric Dyson has asserted that racism is intrinsically located within the DNA of America, I say, that complexion discrimination is intrinsically located within the DNA of Black America. (and America in general of course) Light skin, in. Dark skin, out. And in some cases it’s vice versa. There has been someone who has looked at someone with lighter skin and thought, “Now she think she better than er’eybody.” And like racism, we need to stop pretending like it doesn’t exist within our subconscious.

In the book The Color Complex, the authors write, “Most Blacks are careful about letting Whites in on their dirty little secret.” Yep folks…while we’re crying racism on every corner of the American Flag, this reality is our dirty little secret. Of course brought on by racism, but nonetheless an issue that has historically pervaded our culture. And yes…it shows up in the media too. Look at how Usher’s ex-wife was vilified. Don’t tell me it was because she was a “bad person.” I can count the number of times on my hands people kept pushing the “she’s not cute enough for him button.” And Loreal’s convenient lightening of Beyonce’s skin for their magazine ads. I think they even got sued for that one.

I’ve gotten comments as bad as people wanting me to “get with” a light skinned brotha so that we could have cute kids…anything so that the kids aren’t dark. God forbid! Don’t get me wrong, I know i’m cute. Maybe not to everybody, but there is somebody out there who thinks my skin is my greatest asset…me being the first one because it always starts with you. For 30 years i’ve had to be the “cute dark skinned girl” representing on behalf of underprivileged other dark skinned girls without those features that were identifiably able to be exchanged for their darker skin. It took me a really long time to look at black and see beautiful….to look at Dark chocolate and appreciate its beauty and milk chocolate and appreciate its beauty too and vanilla chocolate and appreciate its beauty three. I get that people have their preferences in beauty and look, but must we still limit it to such disdain for ones skin complexion?

Twitter: @KhristiLauren


“48 Ways to Spell Khristi is a smorgasbord of reflections on faith, beauty, relationships, pop culture and other thoughts that go through the head and heart of this newly turned 30 year old single woman.”

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