Black History Clings To My Veins

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(Every year, my church hosts a Black History Month service, and various churches in my hometown attend. At this year’s service (Sunday, February 28, 2016), I stood up as choirs sung energetically. I enjoyed watching a liturgical dance. I uttered “ummhmm” when a spoken word artist shared her pieces. I listened to the guest speaker as he revealed his testimony of contending with segregation in the South and finally opening up his own animal clinic in the North. 

I was impacted by wisdom and compassion from other ministers as well.  As I am still processing those moments, I will share the ministers’ word offerings in another blog post.

But today’s blog post includes what I shared at the service. I was able to write a reflection and read it to the congregation.  Please see my thoughts below.  Thanks for taking the time to read, y’all! -afrotasticlady)

History is bubbling inside me. My veins are thick with the stories of my parents’ childhoods. My parents were children of the South, and they had to follow the insidious rules of their homeland. Rules that dictated to them how they would be Black and where they could be Black.

Each day, my parents woke up before the sun was out. For hours, they worked. My mom remembers the large tobacco truck that she had to climb into. My dad remembers picking cotton.

History pushes my heart. I am awed by the resilience of my parents. My parents have been blessed in their own journeys. Through turmoil, they relied on God.

I am overjoyed by the accomplishments of my ancestors. Through abuse and pervasive discrimination, they created arts forms. They were the masterminds behind popular inventions.

Yet, I am surprised when I hear folks ask the following questions: why do we continue to celebrate Black history? And why is there even a Black History Month?

Learning about Black history is an uncovering of memories. It is a discovery of a people who would not be moved despite their losses.

The noise of opponents of Black History Month should be answered. My response to them: Let us look at the foundations of Black History Month.

Carter G. Woodson, a Black historian and co-founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, created “Negro History Week” with his colleagues. In 1926, the first “Negro History Week” occurred during the second week of February, which happened to fall on the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Nationally, schools and other community organizations had their own commemorations of the week. Eventually, the “Negro History Week” transitioned into Black History Month with several colleges celebrating it in the 1960s. Later, President Gerald R. Ford “official recognized” the month. He stated that the month was “the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history” (Source: http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-month).

Woodson was committed to showing society the worthiness of black history. He contributed to opportunities for children and even adults to realize that their brown skin is beautiful. To feel the strength within their bones. To know that there have been courageous women and men who spoke when they were supposed to be quiet. To know that we continue to be a bold people!

To the opponents of Black History Month: please let me inform you about some black heroes. Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a journalist who condemned lynchings. She was also one of the co-founders of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). W.E.B Du Bois, a sociologist and another co-founder of the NAACP, wrote the splendid book “The Souls of Black Folk.” Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Baldwin were creative folks who shared honestly about the black experience in their writings. As young people, Diane Nash and John Lewis worked in SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) during the Civil Rights Movement. They risked arrests and even death in order to participate in sit-ins, freedom rides, and marches. Now, Lewis is a U.S. Congressman.

My response to opponents of Black History Month is that black history is an American history, an African history and a global history. This history clings to my veins and spins in my mind. Blame my parents for the passion. Yell at the college I graduated from. But do not take away the month.

And when the month ends, I will continue to read about unknown and known Black leaders. I will listen to Black orators. I will pester my parents with questions about what they endured in the South. I will take these facts and anecdotes, and I will pass along this knowledge to everyone.

 

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Dad and the Red Cadillac: A Post for the “Encouraging Dads Project”

Hey, hey friends! I wanted to let you know that I wrote a post about my dad for the “Encouraging Dads Project.” John Finch, the creator, is collecting inspirational stories from folks in order to uplift fathers. I have enjoyed reading real and positive stories from others about the men in their lives. Daughters and sons have written about how influential their fathers have been. Wives have written about how their husbands nurture their children. There have also been stories from folks who did not grow up with a father, but were able to find a father figure.  Please check out their write-ups. I would love it if you read my post here. Thanks y’all!

February’s 6 Grateful Things List

February Grateful Things List

Hey, hey! Friends, I hope that you enjoy watching this month’s edition of the “6 Grateful Things List.” In this video, I mentioned the following writers/bloggers/creators: Emelda De Coteau of Live in Color and Ashley Hales of Circling the Story. As they say, don’t sleep on these talented women.  I also talked about one of my favorite bands, Needtobreathe. If you need to listen to more of their music, check them out here.

Let’s get to the good stuff already! The VLOG!

Blessings, afrotasticlady

 

Guest Blog Post: Running From The Rain-My Hair Journey

By: Jessi Hughes

I got tired of running from the rain. At the beginning of my natural hair journey, this was one of my favorite ways to answer people who asked me why I decided to go “natural.” In my early twenties, I dated someone who would tease me every time I would run to take cover from the rain just to keep my shoulder length straight hair from getting wet. I would laugh and shrug off his jokes, but perhaps without him realizing it, my sense of normalcy was challenged. And I started to wonder – when did it ever become normal for someone to run from the rain?

Back then I would check the weather forecast religiously first thing in the morning and before I went to bed. If there was even a 40% chance of rain, I would pack my foldable umbrella into my purse to make sure that there was a 0% chance that my hair would get wet. Something inside of me was stirred up though, and I began to crave what it would feel like to let the raindrops fall on my uncovered head. So in the middle of a busy work and grad school schedule, I began using my spare time to research how to transition from permed hair to natural hair.

I won’t assume that everyone reading this knows about perms, so here’s a short lesson. I am by no means a hair expert, but like many naturalistas, I’ve acquired more hours of “hair research” than I would ever like to admit. There are basically two categories of hair perms – one that straightens hair and one that makes hair curly. Within these two categories, there are various ways that the perm can be applied in order to create certain results that produce bone straight hair or even spiral curls so perfect that they would make you look like Shirley Temple. Whether curly or straight, these hairstyles are obtained by putting chemicals on the hair that break down the natural hair’s texture. The results grow out eventually, so to maintain the permed hairstyle, the perm must be applied to the hair’s “new growth” (i.e. the roots). This means you must either learn to apply the perm yourself or make a trip to the salon every 6 to 8 weeks.

“Ahhh, yes – I miss those trips to the hair salon to get a perm,” is something that you will never hear me say! In fact, I try not to think about all the time and money that I spent at salons. I’ve also blocked out the countless times when I ended up with painful sores on my scalp (ouch!) as a result of the chemicals reacting to places where I had absentmindedly scratched before getting a perm, or from the perm being on my hair too long to guarantee that my hair was “straight enough.” I find it sad now when I think about what I put myself through in the name of “beauty.”

My “hair awakening” coincided with me wanting to view myself with natural hair as beautiful since that is how God intentionally made me. At the root of it all, I wanted to truly love myself, so in 2006, I began the transition from permed to natural hair. I began to understand that perms represented more than just a styling option for me. My self-worth had somehow become intertwined with looking like the unrealistic images of women of color that I saw on TV and as I flipped through magazines.

Unlike today, ten years ago there were not as many natural hair websites, blogs, videos, and products that empower and teach women to manage their own hair. So I made the transition with the help of a hairdresser located near my South Loop apartment in Chicago. He put rod sets in my hair to give me a spiral curled look that I loved. Each month he would cut off a little more of my permed hair as I would nervously watch the black trimmings accumulate on the white tiles of the salon floor. I was not completely sold out on having natural hair though, and I figured that if I didn’t like the texture of my hair than I could go back to getting perms. I was secretly wishing that my hair texture would be fine, defined and loose curls.  I probably would not have admitted it, but a part of me had the mentality that many people have that is rooted in self-hate and racism – the mindset that there is “good hair” and “bad hair.” I was hoping that team “good hair” had picked me.

 

JH Post #2

 

When I did the “big chop” in 2007, the decision to cut off the 8 inches of natural hair that had grown out coincided with the decision to let go of toxic relationships and things in my life that I had let rob me of my self-esteem, peace, and joy. My one-inch hair stood out in a time when short natural hair was not as fashionable as it is today. I noticed that compliments about my hair decreased, the type of men who approached me changed, and it was not uncommon for strangers to assume that I led a certain lifestyle or held certain views about politics or religion. I am amused by all of this now, but at the time, I hated the attention that I got as well as the attention that I did NOT get.

This also happened to be the time when I started to go back to church. I struggled to not roll my eyes and to not sit there with arms folded across my chest while the reverend preached. If you could have listened to the commentary in my head during those sermons, you would have known that I had grown cynical and cold to the things of God. The messages seemed to ricochet off of me like rubber bullets, and like a tennis pro, I had a mental rebuttal for every positive thing that the preacher said about God’s faithfulness even if it was simply a skeptical “Oh yeah?” My confidence was shattered, and I was extremely broken and angry with God.  To make matters worse, I was jobless after graduating from grad school, and I was facing the fact that I may need to leave Chicago to move back in with my parents in Massachusetts.

With a depleted bank account and a trail of fruitless job interviews behind me, I packed up and went back home like a prodigal child. I was in the last place that I wanted to be, but home was exactly where I needed to be. God began to work on me and restore my confidence in Him, myself, and people again. I was able to start healing and face the main reason why I had left Massachusetts. It turns out that I was running from more than just the rain.

I’ve come a long way since my TWA (teeny weeny afro) days. As a creative person and an artist, I see my hair as an outlet and a way to express myself, so I love the versatility of being able to change up my look. My hair is now past my shoulders thanks to a healthy lifestyle and from rocking protective styles like two-strand twists, micro-braids, crochet braids, and weaves. My hair has grown a lot, but most importantly, I have grown spiritually and emotionally. I still have more growing to do, but I’m learning to bloom where I am planted. On some rainy days, I walk slowly, with hands in my pockets, and a folded umbrella by my side. Finally I’ve stopped running…

 Jessi Hughes is a singer/songwriter who serves as one of the praise & worship leaders at a church in New England. Deeply influenced by her rich cultural heritage, Jessi draws from the soulful, blues of the South as well as the colorful, joyful praise and rhythms of Ghana, West Africa. She is excited about the upcoming release of her praise & worship EP. When she is not in the recording studio, you may find her practicing the guitar, enjoying the beach (when it’s summer), counting down the days until summer (when it’s winter), or spending time with family and friends. Jessi loves to travel and is passionate about healthy living, writing, and encouraging others to use their gifts for the glory of God and to spread the Gospel. To continue on the journey with Jessi, you can follow her on Instagram (@JessiHughesMusic), Facebook (@JessiHughesMusic), Twitter @JessiHughes), or by subscribing to her quarterly newsletter on her website (www.JessiHughesMusic.com).

JH Post #1

Crawling Is Worthwhile

 

CrawlingWe are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.” 2 Corinthians 6:9-10

I read these verses last weekend, because I was struggling. I was frustrated, and I didn’t know what caused this emotion. I decided to pray. To pray a real prayer. A “I’m-gonna-cry-until-my-eyes-are-red” prayer. A “I’m-not-making-any-sense” prayer. Yet, God knew what I was trying to say.

Once I finished talking to God, I looked through the Bible and stopped at Paul’s words. I admire Paul, because he still served God throughout all of his trials. This man was beaten, jailed, and shipwrecked. Yet, he possessed joy.

As you may know from my last post of 2015, I decided that I would cultivate more joy in my life in 2016. I vowed to read the Word more and to embrace hangouts with family and friends. I feel as though I have made some progress with the goal. I am reading the Word more, and I am excited when I have my family/ friend chill times.

But last weekend, I was overwhelmed with the goal. I questioned my ability to focus on it. I wondered if it was pointless. I wanted to know if I would continue to take two steps forward and one step back. But worthwhile goals must be endured. They require work.

As it is only February, I should not be disappointed with myself for the small progress that I have made. I should celebrate what I have done.  

I used to hear my dad say “You have to crawl before you walk.” When a baby is born, he does not immediately walk.  He usually experiences milestones such as laying on his tummy, rolling over, creeping, crawling, and finally walking. His mama cheers with him at each milestone. When baby takes his wobbly first steps, he is afraid. Mama is clapping her hands and shouting “C’mon! You can do it!” Baby is whining for Mama’s help.

Eventually, baby walks with boldness. He explores under the table.  He bangs pots and pans under the sink.  For baby, walking equals expansion and creativity.

Expansion is slow for me, but it is happening.

How are y’all doing with your goals so far? Please let me know so we can pray and support each other!

And take a listen to one of my favorite Mavis Staples’ songs. A few years ago, my friend JH and I saw Ms. Staples in concert, and she rocked out with her warm, deep voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Blog Post: Acting Natural-My Journey to Natural Hair

By:  Najah Schwartz

Hey, everyone! I’m so happy that I have gotten the opportunity to share my natural hair journey with you all. I personally love being natural and still believe it has been one of the best decisions I have made in regards to my health and well- being. I would like to give a HUGE thank you to Monica for letting me chat with you all and to share my story on your blog.

I began my natural hair journey at a very young age due to having a scalp condition that caused extreme (and gross) patchy flakes to form on my head. It made getting my hair done a pain and nothing seemed to help aid in getting it treated. Looking back, I now realize it was due to me getting chemical relaxers in my hair that caused the scalp condition to form. Growing up with a hairstylist as a mom she explained that I would no longer be getting relaxers in my hair, but instead grow my curly hair to help my scalp turn back to normality. I was only in middle school and relaxers have been the only thing I’ve known.

Fast forwarding a couple years, I was presented with a full-fledged afro that was much different than my shoulder length flat-ironed locks I was used too. Honestly, I had no idea what products I needed, how to care for it and what I needed for it to grow. There were more questions than answers at that time and even though my mom was a skilled beautician she knew nothing about natural hair.

With all the confusion going on, I was determined to figure how to make it work. I looked at informational videos, visited curly hair forums and created a routine for my hair that I believed would work. Over time, I have tweaked and changed it to fit the current needs of my hair. Up to the date I have been through three big chops and now my hair has been the longest it’s ever been. I don’t plan on cutting my hair again though!

Back then, it never bothered me too much to have hair different than the other girls in my school. I did however have an issue with being self conscious and ashamed of my brown 4a locks. I used to wish that my hair was like all of the other curly girls out there, free and flowing! But I soon realized the beauty of who I was and who God made me be.

Natural hair journey

I feel like I have gotten a lot of advice from over the years on how to get my hair to grow and I finally found a hair routine that works best: I wash my hair every two weeks with co-washing in between. Using Tresseme Naturals and Bentonite Clay. For conditioners, I’m really liking the Tresseme Naturals Conditioner that matches the shampoo as well as the Shea Moisture Raw Shea Moisture Deep Treatment Masque. I find that my hair tends to be on the dry side so I deep condition two times a week pairing my conditioners with coconut oil. For styling creams, I’ve been experimenting with Carol’s Daughter Black Vanilla Hair Smoothie, Kinky Curly Curling Custard, and Shea Moisture Weightless Fruit Fusion Hair Mousse. Since my hair has been growing out of the TWA phase, I’m now able to pull it back into a bun effortlessly, so lately that’s been my hair style of choice.

For all the naturals out there, I encourage you all to keep at it. It is, after all, a journey to get to the desired length/ healthiness you want. Embrace the process and enjoy the time you have with your hair at every stage.

Najah is a blogger based in Las Vegas, NV currently gearing up to attend her first semester of college this year. Najah is married and loves sharing her knowledge of writing advice with other bloggers on the web. You can follow her on Twitter(@najschwartz_) Instagram (@najschwartz_) Pinterest (@najahschwartz) and Tumblr (nschwartzwrites.tumblr.com) to keep up with her blog posts and topics.

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