About this Blog

The title of this blog, "I'm About to do My Thing," was inspired by Jill Scott's introduction to her poem "The Thickness" from her live album Experience: Jill Scott 826+. In this intro, she warns that the content to follow is "real" and proceeds to deliver a beautiful message about self-esteem in young black girls, what can influence and damage that self-esteem, and the entire village's responsibility--"it takes a village"--to elevate its children.

Friday, September 30, 2016

This Negro Speaks of Rivers

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

–from Langston Hughes' “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”
I often spend my lunch breaks down by the Alabama River in Montgomery. I love sitting there: reading, thinking, just being. It's a place where all my identities seems to come together and meet, where my past, present and future seem to converge.

Like the time I saw a beautiful black family—a grandfather, his grandson (about 7-ish) and his granddaughter (about 3-ish), fresh off a boat ride and enjoying lunch and each other. I smiled as I watched them, catching bits and pieces of their conversation, the youngest of the crew a bit skittish about an insect flying nearby. It made me think of fishing trips with my father and siblings so many years ago.

And there are the times I have sat by this river and read books that plucked my brain and my heart, like Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Bayou Magic. In this tale, a young girl from New Orleans spends the summer with her mysterious grandmother, who teaches the child about her family’s special connection with the healing powers of water. From the time one of their foremothers was stolen from Africa to the time Big Oil threatens to ruin their entire existence on the bayou, water speaks to this family and the communities around them.

And there’s the time I reclined by the river and began reading historian Eric Foner’s Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad. Early in the book, I read about clever and courageous enslaved folks who attempted to escape bondage via various rivers during American slavery. Some successful, some...not successful.

I think about this particular river, the Alabama, where who-knows-how-many folks—who looked like me, could have been related to me—disembarked from vessels and walked right up this riverbank to a pen or jail on what is now Commerce Street or Dexter Avenue. At some point, they were led to One Court Square—now marked by a beautiful, decorative fountain—where they were auctioned off, maybe separated from family they’d never see again.

I think about lunch by this river with one of my dearest friends. Recently, this friend and I gathered in this old city, just down the road from the river, with two more of our dear crew. We cheered with and for each other, laughed and danced together, loved on and affirmed one another. It was all kinds of black girl magic. It was beautiful. It was love.

Perhaps I thought about all this today as the weather turns noticeably cooler and, maybe in a month or two, I likely won’t be lunching by the river for a while. But I’ll be back.

I came across this video of Langston Hughes reading "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" after explaining the inspiration behind it. Check it out.

video courtesy of Poetry Reading Live on YouTube

Monday, July 11, 2016

No Love Without Justice—and Vice Versa

Art by cselenka: http://cselenka.deviantart.com
I have not said much, digitally, about the killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile or the police officers in Dallas last week. Other than face-to-face conversations in my personal and professional circles, I have sat with numbness, deep sadness and rage, and I have practiced a great deal of avoidance. (I haven’t watched videos or press conferences or read the fine details of the shootings.)

Up to this point and for the most part, I’ve chosen to not contribute to the morass of online musings about these events. What could I say that hasn’t already been said?

But I felt moved, as a believer in Christ (read: a believer in love), to say this: Evil and injustice are as old as time. We humans continue to find ways to hurt each other and to foster discord rather than peace and harmony. And it would be easy to think this is all we are. Prejudice. Bias. Hate. Fear-mongering. Division. Partisanship. Memes. Snarky tweets. And many of our social and political institutions concoct and perpetuate these poisons.

But I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid. I go through my periods of anger and near-misanthropy, but that’s not who I am. I stand on the side of love, and so many people out there are standing with me. I was blessed to read a post by educator Valencia’s Garden tonight (h/t EduColor) titled “Questions Children of Color are Asking: Am I the Next Hashtag?” In it, she describes reading and writing workshops she recently facilitated with teens to help them cope with the trauma of repeatedly seeing killings played out before them on social media.

Some students expressed fear or hatred of police officers, specifically white police officers, and wondered why police are so afraid of black people. “Before I could move on to anything else in my lesson,” she writes, “I had to address self-love and provide an understanding that we are not helpless and hopeless but we are actually stronger now than we have ever been. What makes us strong is the ability to love, unconditionally.”

Since transitioning out of my state of rage about these killings—and the long line of killings that preceded them—the power of love has been taking root in my heart. As frequently as we hear about these violent events, we just as frequently (need to) hear about the people spreading love. And educators like Valencia’s Garden are prioritizing love in their teaching of young people. As often as I lament that hate just won’t “die out,” love won’t die out either. I’m going to continue seeking out and spreading love when, where and how I can: at work, at home, in my extended family, with my friends, online, at the grocery store. And I hope you’ll join me.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t speak out against wrong and injustice. On the contrary, silence is tantamount to complicity. And make no mistake, my friends, Jesus is a lover of justice, despite how some folks want to characterize him. Many of us are tired and disillusioned and we may not feel like we can do much, but we can start where we are. I'm really not trying to be cliché or overly simplistic about this. But each of us has realms of influence, whether they're families, classrooms, offices, community organizations, boardrooms, police precincts, judicial or legislative chambers or friendships. And we can use them on behalf of what is right. We humans have the obligation and the capacity to pursue both love and justice. Really, our society—our world—can’t have one without the other. As Dr. Cornel West states so eloquently, "Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public."

Note: MrYoungGun100 (reveal yourself, friend!) recently commented that I haven’t blogged in nearly two years. I started this post over two hours ago and couldn’t go one minute without an interruption from Mini Mo—until I got her to bed. She’s at least partly to blame for my absence! I’m conjuring up a plan to start posting again though…