Our Prophets Are Dying…But They Leave Gifts

Graffiti by Toni Morrison in the Aranzabela-Salburua neighborhood, in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Photo Credit: Zarateman

On Saturday, October 27, 2018, I was set to attend an event at Bowie State University. There, I would mingle with other authors and hopefully sale copies of my children’s books. This event had been scheduled for months, but when the day finally came, I couldn’t overcome my sluggish mood. I had an eerie feeling all morning, plus I was running late. THEN, OUT OF NOWHERE, the sky cracked open.

It was literally raining sideways.

Now, drenched, I finally reached the building and unloaded. It was a slow day with a good gathering of Black authors. But the weirdness never left.

Later, after I stepped around pools of water under the remerging bright sky, I learned that Ntozake Shange had passed away that morning in Bowie, Maryland.

There were no words.

This was the woman that gave us the lines that told our lives.

“i found god in myself
and i loved her
i loved her fiercely”

“my spirit is too ancient to understand the separation of soul & gender” 

“somebody/ anybody
sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you
but sing her rhythms
carin/ struggle/ hard times
sing her song of life”

“And this is for Colored girls who have considered suicide, but are moving to the ends of their own rainbows.” 

These were the words that we knew before we heard them, so when we did, we never forgot them. She wrote our soul. Our blues, our joys, our grief, our hopes, our humanity, our love.

Ntozake Shange – “she who walks with lions”

On Tuesday, August 6, 2019, Toni Morrison passed away.

This time, I was on a train and cried out an old school church shout. Had I been in the pews, they would have fanned me and covered my legs with white cloth. It was one of those yells. The grief was too much. Our country is in the throws of mass shootings and an illegitimate racist president is running us to the ground, and now Toni Morrison dies?

Help lawd! Who told her she could die?

This is the woman that brought us Pecola Breedlove and Milkman.

She brought us:

“If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.”

“Here, this here, is what a man can do if he puts his mind to it and his back in it. Stop sniveling,’ [the land] said. ‘Stop picking around the edges of the world. Take advantage, and if you can’t take advantage, take disadvantage. We live here. On this planet, in this nation, in this county right here. Nowhere else!”

“All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us–all who knew her–felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her.”

These words mattered. There were incredible for their depth but perhaps mattered even more so, just because they existed. Because before reading their words, many of us didn’t know such a work could exist – that so righteously and unapologetically spoke US. Not spoke to us – SPOKE US!

We hadn’t known it was possible, until someone that loved us handed us a Toni Morrison book or had us read, watch or perform For Colored Girls.

We can do that? We can speak us?

For many, the concept is foreign in a world that tells us everyday that everything about us is wrong.

But there they were. Their presence and words changed our world and shifted the narrative around Black women’s lives. And they were so damn proud about it.

On my way home from work, after another fit of sobbing, the words came to me.

“Our prophets are dying…but they leave gifts.”

I immediately thought of all the sister friends that had called and texted throughout the day. How we all felt the absence of another giant as space and time paused.

Then I thought again of all our words. That we had taken this thing and ran with it. Their words mattered so much because we would never forget to speak us and from now on – we’d be so damned unapologetic about it.

Those are a few of the gifts.

They didn’t give us voice. They showed us our voices and how to use it.

They didn’t give us stories. They told our stories, centered us, and showed us their intrinsic value.

They didn’t give us vision. They showed us how to embrace our visions. How to carve out a space in this world and make it recognize that we exist damn it and we ain’t leaving!

They gave us these gifts…insights, paths, skills, confidence, self-awareness, and self-love. Speaking truth to power, speaking power to the truth within ourselves, and lighting the way forward – so that the new generation would rise.

Our prophets are dying…but they leave gifts.

Ashe’

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Children Are Being Caged to Stop the Browning of America

The stories are painful. The lives are real. America is running detention centers along its borders. And based on the atrocities happening inside, some are calling them concentration camps.

So far we’ve heard of separated families, detained parents and children. Children subjected to adverse conditions. Children forced to sleep on concrete floors. Children forced to sleep with the lights on in nothing more than aluminum wrappers. No soap or toothpaste provided for days. Children subjected to sexual abuse and God knows what else.

Some are afraid of calling these facilities at our borders “concentration camps” but as was written by the Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board, “That is precisely what they are.” And it’s not like our government hasn’t done this before. We still hear stories from survivors of the Japanese internment camps that were set up in “California, Washington, and Oregon” during WWII (History.com).

Part of the visceral reaction to migrant families and asylum-seekers is the fact that America is browning. As reported by the Brookings Institute, whites will become a majority minority by 2045, which is basically tomorrow.

“New census population projections confirm the importance of racial minorities as the primary demographic engine of the nation’s future growth, countering an aging, slow-growing and soon to be declining white population. The new statistics project that the nation will become “minority white” in 2045. During that year, whites will comprise 49.7 percent of the population in contrast to 24.6 percent for Hispanics, 13.1 percent for blacks, 7.9 percent for Asians, and 3.8 percent for multiracial populations 

Among the minority populations, the greatest growth is projected for multiracial populations, Asians and Hispanics with 2018–2060 growth rates of 176, 93, and 86 percent, respectively. The projected growth rate for blacks is 34 percent.* The demographic source of growth varies across groups. For example, immigration contributes to one-third of Hispanic growth over this time span, with the rest attributable to natural increase (the excess of births over deaths). Among Asians, immigration contributes to three quarters of the projected growth.”

The US will become ‘minority white’ in 2045, Census projects (Brookings Institute, 2018)

Racist officials within our government are using scare tactics and harsh conditions to deter migrants from seeking asylum and to deter Black and Brown immigrants from coming to America. They hope to stop or slow the browning of our nation. Thus, anti-immigration extremists have been waiting for this moment for years.

Now, according to the Center for American Progress, the Trump Administration has given them free range to use our federal government to actualize their hateful agenda.

“The anti-immigrant movement has increasingly gained influence over the past decade, reaching a high point during the Trump administration. Top administrative positions in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have been filled by right-wing extremists, many with close ties to hate groups. As a result, anti-immigrant policies that used to be regarded as extreme have been normalized, and dehumanizing rhetoric toward immigrants has become rampant in mainstream media.

The new wave of anti-immigrant extremists leading DHS is responsible for overseeing the nation’s entire immigration system, from adjudicating visa petitions and applications for citizenship and asylum to handling arrests and deportations. These extremists have also played a role in, or defended, policies that outrage many Americans, such as family separation, the increased use of ICE raids, and the disparagement of locations that have sanctuary policies.”

The Anti-Immigrant Extremists in Charge of the U.S. Immigration System (Center for American Progress, 2019)

However, the browning of America is evident and detention centers/concentration camps won’t stop it. Those children, sleeping on concrete floors, are part of America’s promise and future. They should be protected, loved, cared for and kept with their families. Among those children, are future leaders and lawmakers that will remember this moment in America’s history and make sure that it never happens again.

But first we must fight to protect them. Call your representatives at (202) 224-3121 or go to callmycongress.com. Tweet and email your representatives. Be vocal and spread the word that these detention camps are illegal, inhumane and unacceptable. If there are any local or national protests, try to participate. Support efforts to defund ICE. And if you have the ability, vote in every single election both local and national.

Most of all, don’t ignore what is happening and don’t let your anger pass with the next news cycle.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

– Excerpt from New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

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1,000 Scholarships for Black Students Now Available on Fastweb

This Black History Month, Fastweb, the leading website for scholarship and financial aid information and a member of the Monster network, is focusing on resources for African American students.

Fastweb encourages undergraduate, graduate and college-bound African American students to help fund their college education by applying for scholarship opportunities, available now.

In their annual free resource – Scholarships for African American Students – students will find scholarships available in a variety of areas, including: engineering, radiologic sciences, nursing, planning and public policy, business and financial services, manufacturing operations and various other academic areas.

Award amounts range from $500 to $75,000.

“Fastweb is committed to helping provide access to scholarships for African American students to help them achieve their academic goals,” said Mark Nelson, Vice President, Fastweb. “In our new resource, students will find opportunities from educational institutions, foundations, and other organizations across a variety of career disciplines.

There are approximately 1,000 scholarship opportunities with a focus on African American students in our scholarship database,” said Nelson.

With Fastweb’s Scholarship Directory, all students can search for awards by school year, ethnicity, race, unique situations and more. For more helpful free online resources, visit Fastweb.com or download the Fastweb app.

This is a great opportunity. When I was in school, I won two contests that were featured on Fastweb. If you are a student in need of financial help, take a look at the scholarships listed and start applying asap.

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A Message For Writers: Stop Waiting For Permission

hold-fast-to-dreams-for-it-dream-die

There are so many different rivers to cross for writers. Writing is a field that presents rejection as a rite of passage. At every turn, writers are expected to present our work to gatekeepers for approval, acknowledgement, and accolades. The chase to be accepted is never ending and at times can be overwhelming. This, in turn, can halt progress. So much looming rejection, can lead us to forget why we’re writing in the first place. Truth be told, most writers didn’t first pick up a pen thinking about whether or not their structured thoughts would be accepted into a literary journal.

We started writing because we had a passion for something. We had a voice that needed to be released. We had a purpose that needed to be fulfilled. In the digital age, there is more flexibility than ever for writers to both hone their skills and move forward with their careers, without first needing the approval of gatekeepers. Some see this new found freedom negatively, desperately touting the need for restrictions. However few acknowledge that the current publishing industry is built on exclusionary, elitist practices that traditionally marginalize writers from under-privileged groups.

Are we to stop writing if our work is not welcomed with opened arms into prestigious literary circles?

If you have an idea for a book, get started. If you want to create your own syndicated column, podcast or video series there is nothing stoping you but you. Hone your craft, listen to your gut and move forward. There will always be time to submit to journals and send out proposals. Don’t let this process halt your progression.

Stop waiting for permission to be yourself and fulfill your purpose.

 

JAM-TwitterJessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a poet, writer and social justice advocate. She’s also the founder of Our Legaci. Rant or rave to JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com. Don’t forget to join our mailing list!

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Disappearing Words: Writing In The Digital Space

 

Zora Reading
Zora Neale Hurston reading

There’s something magical about writing and sharing the inner workings of your mind instantly. That’s how it works in the digital space. We’re constantly sharing, breathing new life into old words. Yet, at the same time there’s a fleeting feeling.

Another case of police brutality…write a think piece.

Another person says something racist…write a think piece.

Another person does something sexist…write a think piece.

I’ve actually come to hate think pieces. I can’t help but feel like a rat on a wheel. There’s this constant spinning motion pushing you to stay writing, stay hitting that publish button in hopes of likes or some monetary gain. I’ve heard it referred to as “feeding the beast.” The internet is never satisfied. What’s popular today is gone tomorrow, almost as if it never existed. Old suddenly takes on new meaning. Content often focuses on who can break it faster and hinders most real possibilities of in-depth analysis or nuanced discussions.

Everyone must ride the wave. Or be deemed nonexistent.

I’ve often wondered how potent their words would have been if Langston Hughes or Zora Neale Hurston spent hours on Facebook and Twitter instead of penning poems and writing books. Perhaps they would have gained a “following.”

Yet, would we value their work the same? Would their words have been added to the endless stream of brilliant yet easily discardable “latest posts?” Would we still value their time?

The problem with digital writing is there is nothing to hold on to. It’s not the same feeling as having a physical book or magazine. It’s digital, cloud based, and light like air. Thereby making digital writing feel temporary, like a fleeting gust of wind.

Though nothing ever really disappears on the internet, the quick natured environment of digital communication makes important dialogue get quickly discarded in exchange for the latest controversy.

Everyone feasts upon it, dining on every piece, tearing apart every strip. Then, on to the next one. Lack of substance becomes reality. Quick witted pseudo scholars, psychologists and self help gurus dominate droves of gullible minds simply because they’ve found the key to social media. They’ve learned to ride, even manipulate the waves.

Even with well meaning publications, writing becomes another day, another click bait. Always striving to be ahead of the page view curve makes substance secondary. Everyone is striving to be memorable without memory.

Where do we go from here?

How do we deal with the issue of disappearing words? (The fleeting times, the missed moments, the badly deconstructed ideas, and the incessant desire to be noticed.)

There are no real answers to this question. Perhaps our only choice is to be inventive: push the limits, dig, write, erase, write again, breakdown, and build up in ways that haven’t been done before. Maybe then, our words will serve more as a reference point than some random page, that once was skimmed and forgotten.

Nevertheless, we will do what writers do. We’ll keep writing, hoping the digital swindlers leave enough room for us to make an impact before our words disappear.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com.
To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.

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