Kathleen Cross Interviewed by Masud Olufani

This is a cross post from BahaiTeachings.org

“In her multidisciplinary professional practice, which includes writing, pedagogy, and public speaking, Kathleen Cross unpacks the social complexity of being fair-skinned in a society where one’s proximity to “whiteness” often determines social mobility. Ms. Cross is the author of Skin Deep, an award-winning novel exploring issues of race and ethnic identity, which has been required reading in U.S. colleges and universities. She has been a featured guest on the Oprah Winfrey show, Phil Donahue, Dr. Phil and National Public Radio. She was named a California Superior Courts expert on issues of race and cultural sensitivity. She lives in Southern California, is the mother of four daughters, and is a devoted Baha’i.” – Masud Olufani  

Join me as we welcome Kathleen Cross to America’s Most Challenging Issue  …Read More and listen to the Podcast Episode Here

Masud Olufani is an Atlanta based multidisciplinary artist, actor and writer. He is a graduate of Morehouse College and the Savannah College of Art and Design where he received an M.F.A. in sculpture in 2013. His work has been featured in group and solo exhibitions nationally and internationally. He is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including a South Art Prize state fellowship; a MOCA Working Artist Project Grant; and a Southwest Airlines Art and Social Engagement Grant. He is currently an artist in residence at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. His writing has been featured in Scalawag magazine, Burnaway, and he was a contributing writer for the Jacob Lawrence Struggle Series catalogue, published by the Peabody Essex Museum. He is the co-host of Retroreport on PBS, a primetime investigative news show that looks at news events through the lens of history. Masud is the 2021-22′ visiting artist fellow and lecturer at Emory University in Atlanta

Phenomenal On So Many Levels

I’m sharing this Amazon.com review of Skin Deep here because I felt the reader really connected with the characters and really understood the plot of the novel and the part melanin plays in it:

Wow! This was an awesome read. It was recommended by a book club, so this was my first time reading any of Ms. Cross’ work. And may I say that I have TRULY been missing out. Skin Deep was absolutely PHENOMENAL. No doubt. Period. The story was well crafted. The characters were well-developed. There is symbolism galore, as well as drama and suspense. (With a HUGE twist at the end! I never saw that coming.)

Nina was a complex character, with an interesting perspective on things. She was a beautiful, strong-willed, well-educated woman who came from a strong support system. Her “cross to bear” (if you call it that) is that in addition to her flawless beauty, she is a very fair skinned Black woman with blue eyes. Nina is aware of the special treatment and privileges she receives because of her fair skin, blue eyes, beautiful hair and body, etc. So much so, that she strives for equal opportunities and treatment for herself and others. Her father is a famous African-American musician. But her biological mother, who she knows is white, is a huge secret. A secret that she has spent years trying to find out about; even though she has a wonderful relationship with her Mama who raised her.

While on her crusade for equal minority relations and a MLK holiday at the college campus where she teaches and volunteers, she meets an interesting man named Ahmed and his beautiful daughter, Ebony. She is intrigued by Ahmed, who is totally rude and obnoxious towards her. And she instantly bonds with Ebony- who is desperate for stability and unconditional love, attention and guidance from a woman. The only problem is that Ahmed loathes Nina and what he feels that she is and she represents.

I won’t give away anything additional, because I want you to read the book and follow their journey yourself. As other reviews have said, this is a complex but beautiful story. Even though Ms. Cross wrote it many years ago, I believe that the themes and sub-plots are still prevalent today. Outstanding job Ms. Cross! (It was so good that I purchased her second book before I was half way finished with this one.)

Help Me Understand Why Cannes Winner “Blue is the Warmest Color” is a Triumph for Lesbians

I was a late bloomer. I was a tree-climbing, pet-menagerie-loving, book-devouring tomboy my entire childhood. At 14 years old I still had not reached puberty, and I had begun to wonder if something might be physically wrong with me, since most of my girl-friends had been bona fide sanitary-pad-carrying “women” for many years.

When “womanhood” did finally strike me at 15, it hit with a vengeance. I went from stick-thin to hourglass in a matter of weeks, and I had stretchmarks on my new C-cup breasts to show for it.

I struggled a bit with the transition. The sudden attention. And, as I became increasingly attracted to boys, and they to me, I began to discover that my new womanly parts were some sort of an asset.

Still a virgin and halfway to 16, I met a 21-year-old man who shared a house with his brother in my cousin’s neighborhood. He was gorgeous. He was intelligent. He was chivalrous. He was single.

We got to know each other over neighborhood spades and domino games and we traded flirtations, though we both knew he was too old for me.

It was a sweet fall for me. Uninitiated virgin meets worldly, independent, philosophical  man-friend. After a first  kiss, we decided to be “a couple,” though I made it clear to him that I did not intend to “lose my virginity” until my wedding night. It was the stuff of Disney movies.

We “went steady” for a few months. He picked me up on his motorcycle and took me on mountain hikes and picnics. He wrote me romantic letters and professed his love for me.

He may have really loved me. Or, he may have been grooming me for sex. Arousal is a powerful force, and a body will want what it wants.

But, I was still a child. And, he knew it.

The brief love affair ended in his car one night in my driveway. We were kissing (and suffering from the arousal of it all) and he suddenly stopped and said. “I really care about you, but I can’t do this. I respect you. I respect that you’re not ready to have sex, but I’m a man, and I do want to have sex. I don’t want to hurt you in any way, but I can’t do this.”

And, that was the end of that. I cried for a couple of weeks then moved on to a relationship with a boy my age.

Now, let’s imagine for a moment an alternate universe in which that conversation ended instead with the passionate sexual consummation of our “young love.” Let’s pretend that our subsequent increasingly explicit and adventurous sexual cavorting was captured on camera and displayed to the public as the artistic exploration of an adult man initiating a 15-year-old girl into the physical expression of their “forbidden” love. That, legally, would not be considered art. That would be considered child pornography and my man-friend would have likely been arrested and would now be a registered sex offender.

I suspect a major motion picture about said grown man seducing a child that contains lengthy and pornographic sex scenes would never make it to pre-production, let alone be lauded as artistic.

Which brings me to my admittedly sight-unseen judgments about “Blue is the Warmest Color.”

Here is the description of the film: 15-year-old, Adèle has no doubt : a girl must date boys. Her life is turned upside down when she meets Emma, a blue haired young woman who allows her to discover desire and to assert herself as a woman and an adult. (They left out the part about how Emma is a sexually experienced graduate student in her twenties.)

In the many reviews of this film I have seen online, no one is discussing the age gap between these characters.

Brokeback Mountain was a monumental film about two consenting adults that won accolades for its courage and sensitivity, but had one of those characters been a 15-year-old boy, would that film have been made?

When it comes to sexual exploitation, should it matter that the one doing the exploiting doesn’t have a penis? Does Adele need to be 14 for us to view Emma as a molester? Thirteen?  When adult men do this to young boys, a cry for their prosecution is loud and immediate.

Being a woman and a mother of women, and having been a 15-year-old myself, it’s impossible for me to appreciate or applaud a film in which an adult seduces a child–and that seduction is offered up in graphic detail for voyeuristic mass consumption.

Being a woman it is difficult for me to trust the motives of a male film maker whose 3-hour movie contains long segments of what has been described by reviewers as “extremely graphic” and “absolutely not simulated” lesbian sex. (His red carpet walk with the teen women who starred in the film gave me the creeps.)

Not being a lesbian, I ‘m wondering why this film is being discussed all over the Internet (mostly by men) as a “triumph” for lesbians of which to be “proud.”

Please know that I am not being facetious or sarcastic when I ask for help understanding why those applauding this film do not feel compelled to protect the world’s Adeles from the sexual advances of “loving” adults, regardless of whether the adults are male or female, straight or LGBTQ.

BLOGGER’S NOTE: I have not seen Blue is the Warmest Color and do not want to after reading the reviews. I did not read 50 Shades of Grey for the same reason–because, though it is likely to be titillating, my personal preference is to not be “entertained” by the sexual exploitation of innocents  (and I don’t want those images in my head forever). This has admittedly influenced my opinions about this movie. I welcome other points of view.

European_Douchebag and the Bearded Sikh Girl: When Cyberbullying Goes Terribly Right

I’m not sure how much attention you’re willing to pay to the ramblings of a Reddit poster named “european_douchebag,” but the guy has sparked a conversation that has led many, myself included, to examine the impromptu judgments we make about how other humans choose to present themselves to the world—and about how the concept of “beauty” so effectively divides us.

It seems “douchebag” caught sight of the young lady pictured here and, without her knowledge, snapped this photo of her. He proceeded to post the photo on Reddit and tagged it /r/funny along with the caption, “i’m not sure what to conclude from this.”

On the cyberbullying meanness scale, I’d give douche’s caption a 2.5, but the message he not-so-subtly conveyed about his photo’s subject was, What’s wrong with this picture? The photo elicited hundreds of responses, many of them considerably more cruel than Douche’s original caption. Of course, with the virtual world being as small as it is, a friend eventually alerted the photo’s subject that she was being ridiculed online, and, well, I’ll give you four wild guesses how the “victim” responded:

A. She contacted an attorney and issued an immediate cease and desist letter to Douche and Reddit.

B. She combed through Douche’s Reddit ramblings and found several posts with which to embarrass him.

C. She took the high (ignore that insensitive jerk) road.

D. None of the above.

The answer is “D” —and then some. Against the advice of cyberbullying experts, who warn bullying targets to “never reply to cyberbullies-even though you may really want to,” the young lady posted this response to Douchebag’s photo share: (The paragraph breaks are mine)

Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture. I actually didn’t know about this until one of my friends told me on facebook. If the OP wanted a picture, they could have just asked and I could have smiled ? However, I’m not embarrased or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positve] that this picture is getting because, it’s who I am.

Yes, I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn’t reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us.

By crying ‘mine, mine’ and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a separateness between ourselves and the divinity within us. By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it? When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away. However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can.

So, to me, my face isn’t important but the smile and the happiness that lie behind the face are. ? So, if anyone sees me at OSU, please come up and say hello. I appreciate all of the comments here, both positive and less positive because I’ve gotten a better understanding of myself and others from this.

Also, the yoga pants are quite comfortable and the Better Together tshirt is actually from Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that focuses on storytelling and engagement between different faiths. ? I hope this explains everything a bit more, and I apologize for causing such confusion and uttering anything that hurt anyone.

*blink*

Ahem. Can we say SCHOOLED? Geez. Balpreet really took it there. And by there I mean LOVING, PATIENT, COMPASSIONATE WISDOM. Did she really say, “By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions.” ? Well, damn. I’m so humbled by that line (and simultaneously knocked back into my own history to examine the many many many apparel and grooming choices I’ve made in my life that in NO WAY added value to my life’s purpose, and probably inadvertently (?) created a carnal distraction for some poor soul struggling to stay on a spiritual path.) But, I digress.

So, I’ll give you four wild guesses as to how Douche responded to this very (clearly) loving message Balpreet directed at him which was the essence of peaceful, thoughtful, kind, and mature.

A. He photoshopped the picture with creative cruelty–ratcheting up the ridicule factor.

B. He responded to her message with vicious insults.

C. He shut down his Reddit account and disappeared from the conversation.

D. None of the above.

The answer is, of course, “D” —with an unexpected twist. Douche apologized:

“I know that this post ISN’T a funny post but I felt the need to apologize to the Sikhs, Balpreet, and anyone else I offended when I posted that picture. Put simply it was stupid. Making fun of people is funny to some but incredibly degrading to the people you’re making fun of. It was an incredibly rude, judgmental, and ignorant thing to post. /r/Funny wasn’t the proper place to post this. Maybe /r/racism or /r/douchebagsofreddit or /r/intolerance would have been more appropriate.

Reddit shouldn’t be about putting people down, but a group of people sending cool, interesting, or funny things. Reddit’s been in the news alot lately about a lot of cool things we’ve done, like a freaking AMA by the president. I’m sorry for being the part of reddit that is intolerant and douchebaggy. This isn’t 4chan, or 9gag, or some other stupid website where people post things like I did. It’s fucking reddit. Where some pretty amazing stuff has happened.

I’ve read more about the Sikh faith and it was actually really interesting. It makes a whole lot of sense to work on having a legacy and not worrying about what you look like. I made that post for stupid internet points and I was ignorant. So reddit I’m sorry for being an asshole and for giving you negative publicity. Balpreet, I’m sorry for being a closed minded individual. You are a much better person than I am. Sikhs, I’m sorry for insulting your culture and way of life. Balpreet’s faith in what she believes is astounding.

“Balpreet’s faith in what she believes is astounding.” I concur. And, I would add that she stands as a magnificent role model for those who would be victimized by cyberbullying–not necessarily in her amazingly humble and instructive written response (which not everyone is mature or literate enough to effectively pull off), but in her INTERNAL response to the criticism itself. She decided not to be embarrassed or humiliated, and she clearly wasn’t, because she knows who she is. She knows where her value lies. And since that value is not related to anything material, nothing material can touch it.

Love that.

 I can only honor Balpreet for how far ahead of us she is in recognizing how so-called physical beauty (determined by whom?) is a stumbling block to spiritual evolution and often impedes us in living a life that adds true value to the world, though I must admit I won’t be letting my body hairs have their way.

Having been raised in the Baha’i Faith, with “unity in diversity” as the watchwords for human interactions, it is not difficult for me to admire Balpreet and respect her choices. On the subject of dress and appearance, the Baha’i writings advise: “Let there be naught in your demeanor of which sound and upright minds would disapprove, and make not yourselves the playthings of the ignorant. Well is it with him who hath adorned himself with the vesture of seemly conduct and a praiseworthy character.” (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, ¶ 159 p. 76) Who, exactly, possesses “sound and upright minds” raises a deeper question, of course, but the concept makes so much sense to me that any extreme in dress or grooming that provides fodder for “the ignorant” can turn one’s own individual freedom of expression into another’s spiritual, emotional and moral distraction.

Some folks reading that are like, “So what?! I’m going to dress however I want to, and how it’s perceived by others is not my problem.” Which is how you might respond if you don’t believe the spiritual lives of others have anything to do with you, and if you don’t believe cause and effect carry any significant consequences. I am still pondering this incident and the conversations it has inspired, and I am still deciding how it applies to my own life and choices. No, I won’t be letting my body hairs do their own thing, but I will be asking myself in what ways my individual freedom of expression is impacting my own spiritual growth, and how it might impact the spiritual lives of others. 

 

Tatiana Zamir Wants to Touch You…

Truth is a part of our foundation…even though pain may come from being vulnerable, beauty will surely follow.” –Tatiana Zamir

Tatiana Zamir wants to touch you.

Yes, you read that right.

Not only does Tatiana Zamir want to touch you, she wants you to know that it may be one of the most moving experiences of your life.

The word touch carries a lot of meaning for us humans. Being touched is a basic human need—but because so many of us have been injured or betrayed or abandoned in our quest for intimacy, we have forgotten how uplifting and nurturing it is to allow ourselves to feel the healing and serenity that comes from letting another human authentically meet our need to be touched.

Zamir, who is a graduate of  UCLA’s renowned World Arts and Cultures Program (and  is also a licensed massage therapist and graduate of the Institute of Pycho-Structural Balancing)  believes she is on earth to remind us not to lose our vulnerability.

Talking about truth and touch and vulnerability with this multi-talented healer, dancer, teacher, writer and theater producer reminds me of the opening quote from the Oscar-winning Paul Haggis film Crash a movie which, at its core, was about how we hide our truths and our vulnerabilities in an effort to feel safe:

“In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”

Zamir is on a mission to change that—one human being at a time.

Whether Tatiana is transporting a client to “another realm” via her “Healing Hands” massage therapy practice, or delivering messages of hope and healing to packed audiences through her sold-out theatrical dance production, “Moonlight Reflections,” or teaching her students to “sweat joyfully” via her popular “Afro-Hip Hop Dance Class,” Zamir has made it her life’s work to share her temple and her truths in ways that are healing, inspiring and spiritually uplifting.

 “I grew up dancing and I always hated going to dance classes in Los Angeles because they were so competitive and I just wanted to have fun. Then I found this class and I couldn’t be happier. Not only is it dance, but it is a serious, fun workout! The best thing about the class is, the studio is filled with students from no experience to dancers, so the instructor, Tatiana, creates an incredible workout and choreography that allows you to either just keep up or stylize it to your own skill set. Tatiana is sweet, challenging, fun and super talented.” –Ashley L, Afro-HipHop Dance Workshop student

“This class is the most enjoyable cardio style dance class I’ve taken in my 20 years of taking classes at various studios and gyms in LA.  It’s a great workout whether you are a beginning dancer or a professional. Tatiana is a knowledgeable teacher with great energy and she creates such a welcoming environment.  Everyone is there to have a good time and a good time is ALWAYS had!  I always walk out of this class with a smile on my face.” – Tracy M, Afro-HipHop Dance Workshop student

 “Through a diverse range of topics, from the female African American experience, to spirituality, materialism and struggles with family and the pains of growing up, Tatiana Zamir weaves these dramatic vignettes to tell a story of love, creativity, roots, forgiveness and healing that is truly inspirational…I left the theater floating on a higher physical and spiritual vibration!” ~Dustin G.ons] was AWESOME, I was moved!!! I laughed, cried, danced, etc.!! The entire cast… amazing. Folks NEED to see this 

 “Tatiana truly has a talent of transporting your body and mind to a whole new level of bliss with her intuitive touch. “ – Taylor D, massage client

“I have traveled the world, literally, getting massages and body treatments everywhere I go. I have had just about every type of massage; shia-tzu, swedish, thai, spa pamper. Throughout every experience I always find something to complain about; it’s too hard, not hard enough, not long enough or just not all around complete. Healing Hands by Tatiana is the only time that I get to fully let go, not think and enjoy the love my muscles receive. ” -Yaani King, massage client

If the ultimate Purpose of Life here on earth is tied in any way to how effective we are at using our bodies, our minds, our talents and our time to inspire growth and healing in others, Tatiana Zamir is setting an excellent example of how to get that done—and how to have a great time doing it.

I recently sat down with Tatiana for an in-depth discussion that reveals how and why she is so committed to and effective at touching others, and why she is so good at telling the truth:

KC: Why are you on earth?

TZ: I’m a truth teller. I’ve always been a fan of the truth. It’s always come easy for me to express it, and I hope to inspire others to be closer to the truth–whatever that looks like in their own lives.

Why is truth telling so crucial to you?

In the Baha’i writings it is written that “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtue,” so we can’t really grow or develop spiritually if we cannot be truthful about where we are now. We are essentially spiritual beings and part of what helps us to be spiritually successful is to be truthful.

If Tatiana Zamir were a brand, what would that brand represent?

Vulnerablity. Truth. Healing. Creativity. Inspiration.  I’ve been hearing so many people say how inspired they were by Moonlight Reflections. Whether inspired to go create something themselves, or to finally address some situation in their lives that required truth telling and honesty. I think people saw on stage tangible examples of how being vulnerable can be the foundation for real change in our lives and in our relationships.

What does vulnerability mean to you?

There are no walls. Or fewer walls. I have a couple of walls as an artist and as a human, but there really are not many emotional boundaries I won’t cross. I’ve had people tell me that creatively and emotionally I’m really brave and courageous, though I don’t really feel that way because it comes so naturally to me.  Sharing is not something that’s hard for me. I think vulnerability is letting your walls down and not being afraid of what people will think and knowing that the truth is part of our foundation and that even though pain may come from being vulnerable, beauty will surely follow.

The ways that you reach for your fellow human beings are very tangible. Why are you so open to sharing your temple in such visible and tactile ways?

What else am I here for? If I can’t fully be myself and fully share myself with the world why do we even exist? Because I’m so attracted to the truth, I always want to get to the core of who people are and I want them to see me right away. I believe it gives people permission to be their true selves when I do that.

What inspired you to want to be a massage therapist?

It’s something I’ve always loved to do and I was always really good at it even before I received formal training. I hadn’t really considered massage as a career, but I have always been attracted to healing, and I know that when I massage a client I’m literally making the world a better place. Healing touch produces so much good in the world.

Your clients really do rave about your technique. What makes you such an awesome masseuse? There are a bazillion massage parlors in L.A., why do your clients come back to you?

I think people come back to me because I’m really in tune with what’s happening with people and I really nurture them while I massage them. That may sound like “duh doesn’t every masseur do that?” But, unfortunately, the answer is no, they don’t. I get massages myself all the time and I’m often disappointed because I feel like people are so disconnected from the touch they are putting on your body and the work they’re doing is not reflective of the frequency your body is at. I’m really good at connecting with people and being present with them. People often say to me “I’ve had massages all over the world and I’ve never experienced that before.” My clients say they go into a zone. They go to another realm. They get their muscles worked on but they’re having an out of body experience as well.

You are a person who lives and breathes dance. What are people missing out on when they have no dance in their lives at all?

I really feel everyone’s life would improve tremendously if they danced every day, and I believe that so strongly because of what it does for me. Dance really takes me to a higher place. No matter what frequency I’m at, when I dance, it takes me to an even higher one. If I’ve had a bad day, after dancing, no stress can touch me. If I’ve had a great day, I’m just that much happier. I don’t know if it’s from releasing endorphins and relieving stress or what, but I feel closer to the Creator. I feel a real spiritual high.

Can I experience that spiritual high vicariously through watching others dance, or do I need to experience it by actually dancing myself?

I think you could have a piece of that high by witnessing it. I think you can feel that and I think you can experience some of what we’re feeling. I think you take it to another level when you do it yourself. You’re feeling things that are unique to you and depending on how your body’s feeling and where you are, you’ll experience it at a uniquely personal level. It’s a different experience when you put yourself out there.

If I attended a session of your Afro-Hip Hop Dance Workout, what would make me want to come back?

I believe my students come back week after week because they get a great workout–they’re drenched at the end–but they’ve had an amazing time doing it. They’ve told me they really love the music. I mix up my playlist with Afro beat, dance hall, salsa and hip hop, and I”ll mix contemporary radio hits with old school artists like Common and the Roots. You would love the intimacy of the class too, and the uniqueness. It feels like family. Everyone is supportive and loving and you don’t always get that in a dance or exercise class. But my class is like a family reunion every time. People say they feel very supported and supportive there.

Your decision to create, choreograph and produce Moonlight Reflections must have been a huge leap of faith. Is this a new direction for you? Will you venture further into dance theater?

In the process of creating that show I felt a happiness I had never experienced before. It felt so right and it was clear that it was where I needed to be. It’s very new for me to even be thinking about this right now. This is a new dream for me. I had a burning desire to bring my ideas to life in a theater and have people witness it. I had no idea it would sell out two weeks in advance and that people would call for me to stage it again. I don’t know yet how this calling will continue to express itself in my life, but I do see myself in the future as a producer of work that heals and hopefully inspires others to heal and inspire others.

What did you learn about yourself in taking that risk?

Being a producer requires bringing a lot of skills to the table that I might not really need to use too often in other areas of life. Hiring and assessing and critiquing the expertise of staff for example. I had endless learning experiences, but the thing that really floored me was that I never anticipated how deeply moved people would be by my work. It’s inspiring and humbling to see how sharing truth can ripple out into other lives in meaningful ways. I am still receiving letters from people who were moved by Moonlight Reflections. And, I mean written letters sent in the mail. In this age of technology, that is so stunning to me. People must have been really moved and inspired for them to sit down and write me letters and share their stories with me. I’ve had so many parents say the show made them think twice about their relationships with their children. They really want to be different and open and truthful and work harder at nurturing their relationships. I also had many young people come up to me after the show to say they felt like I told pieces of their story so truthfully, without me even knowing their actual story.

A significant part of Moonlight Reflections entailed the abusive-turned-estranged-turned-healed relationship with your mother. Through movement, music and spoken word you told many truths about your childhood experiences with her that were not cute or sweet. You really exposed some hurtful things that many mothers would not want exposed. How did your mother feel about that?

Her friends were like “I can’t believe you let her say these things about you.” My mom’s response was, It wouldn’t have been as powerful if she didn’t. What Tati shared is the truth. It’s what happened. The healing part of our story is so powerful because the painful and uncomfortable part was truthfully and fully shared. The show created even more healing and love between us. I had never had so much support in my life from my mother as I did with developing and producing this show.

In the successful Kickstarter project you launched to fund the planning and production of Moonlight Reflections, you talked about how your mother’s transformation as a parent began with a spiritual experience. In a state of prayer and meditation she suddenly became you and she felt the tiny heart of a little girl that was so shattered by her actions. How did your mother begin to heal your injured relationship?

Our healing occurred because my mother was able to finally tell the truth after she was in denial for so long, and she was able to truly apologize for hurting me all those years. A true apology is when you really mean it, and I knew for the first time in my life that she meant it. In the past I felt her apologies were followed by a million excuses. “I’m sorry but I was a single mom and this and that…”

This apology was different in what way?

It was something I truly felt. It was genuine. It wasn’t an angry apology. It wasn’t an I’m sorry, but…”  It was genuine and it was beautiful. And, more importantly, after my mother apologized, she actually changed. She actually became a different mother. She doesn’t yell at me. She doesn’t verbally abuse me anymore. She came to a place where she really wanted something different for us. 

So many people were touched in amazing ways by your journey. What do you think we can all learn from your story of injury and healing?

The truth really will set you free, if you allow it to.  That saying has a whole new meaning for me now.

www.tatianazamir.com
twitter.com/tatianazamir

One on One with Kumaserati: We Talk Black Wall Street, Kat Stacks and ’99 Names of God’

If you are a serious aficionado of “conscious” hip hop music, you are no doubt familiar with the name Kumasi Simmons, a.k.a., Kumaserati, a gifted hood-born poet with a unique flow that has attracted souls from as close as Brooklyn and Compton to as far as Paris, Jakarta, Tunisia and Ghana.

Kumasi has collaborated with some of the most creative and prolific artists in popular music, including Kanye West, Adam Levine, Mos Def, Malik Yusef and The Game.

When The Game heard Kumasi’s soul-stirring flow, he welcomed him to the Black Wall Street label as “Kumaserati,” BWS’s sole “conscious” contributor. After recording curse-free, drug-free, woman-respecting songs under the Black Wall Street flag, in May, 2012, Kumasi independently released a 27-track hood gospel project entitled Soul Music.

Soul Music is a majestic offering of uplifting, inspiring and cautionary songs with titles like Same Soul (f. Tara Ellis), Change (f. Mos Def), Highway to Hades, Promised Land (f. Kanye West and Malik Yusef), Be Kind to Your Mother, and, my personal favorite, Amazing Grace:

As if Kumasi wasn’t busy enough in the studio making his Soul Music dream a reality, last year this Compton, Cali native was sponsored by the U. S. State Department to travel the world as a cultural attaché, visiting developing democracies in Indonesia and Africa, where young, mostly Muslim, citizens are both curious and dubious about American culture and freedom of expression.

Kumasi performed with fellow Muslim artists via the group Remarkable Current in an unprecedented cultural exchange program through which they delivered messages of peace and brotherhood across barriers of language and ideology. For more information about this project, visit remarkablecurrent.com .

The video below (f. Kumasi), paying homage to Tunisian revolutionary hero Mohamed Bouazizi, is an example of the incredible creativity and passion hip hop music lends to messages of freedom and calls for progress around the world. Is it just me, or is this track SICK? And by sick, I mean AMAZING.

I recently caught up with this self-described “servant of God,” to find out what motivates him musically, what’s keeping him busy now and where he is headed next.

KC: When you released your first album, Change Gon’ Come, you used your given name, Kumasi. Now you have adopted this new moniker, Kumaserati. What’s the story behind this name change?

Kumaserati is an alias that was created to help young people remember my name. Kumasi is the name of a city in Ghana, and until I can popularize that name as an artist, I want to help people find me and find my music. I want to leave a positive impression on impressionable young people who will respond to that name because it is associated with something they value.  A Maserati is a vehicle. Kumasi is a  servant. Kumaserati is a servant of God first and foremost. The way that I serve may require different strategies.

Speaking of strategies, I understand you’ve joined a music group called Kaj (www.thekaj.com). What is Kaj and how is it different from the music of Kumaserati?

The Kaj is another strategy for Kumasi to exist in service to God. The word Kaj is a combination of the names of its members, Kumasi, Anas and Joel. We came together to do a project that is soulful and that is inspired by people that inspire soul music–like Curtis Mayfield. Like The Ojays. The Kaj is using the language and diction and the integrity of those times with the sound of today.

It seems to me there’s this gap in music today where some of us feel we really have to look and listen hard to find contemporary music that is still soulful or soul-filled. It sounds like this group is the perfect fit for us.

We weren’t really trying to specifically fill any void. We were just trying to make music that we like and that people like. Our intention is to create music that is about love, and is  also correct towards women. Theres’ a song about domestic violence. There’s a song called  The Sounds of Making Love.

Is there a percentage of The Kaj’s sound or style that you would call hip hop, or is it a departure from your hip hop roots?

That’s an excellent question. The attempt here is to be intelligent and at the same time be cognizant of using simple yet meaningful words. You won’t hear us saying words like “swag.” You might hear words like “darling” and “delectable.” The word choices are deliberate. Our music is supposed to make you feel happy and make you feel like you want to make love to your woman and retain the respect due to women.

On your new album, Soul Music, you included a track called “99 names of God.” Tell me three of those names that are embodied in your music.

“Sublime. Gracious. Mighty.”

How did an artist so focused on heavenly goals, end up at Black Wall Street with The Game?

He really wanted a conscious artist on his label. My affiliation with Black Wall Street provides an opportunity to broaden my reach as an artist. I will always have love for The Game for opening that door for me.

What is one quality of The Game that would surprise people?

People might be surprised that he has a great sense of humor. People may be surprised that he’s a family man. People may be surprised that he’s a man who is striving to be a better man and a better person. You might be surprised to know that he is in tune with his Creator.

You have collaborated with some heavyweights in the industry. Who would you like to work with that you haven’t yet?

I love Jamie Foxx as a person and Pharrell as well. After meeting and vibing with them, I would love to work with them. Also Will.i.am. I admire his creativity. Cee-lo is really gifted and down to earth–really for the people. I would love to work with him. Of course, Tupac, when he comes back.

Thank you for that awesome segue to my next question. If you died and God sent you back here as a woman. What would your mission be?

To be an example of class. An example of motherhood. We need more examples of strong women who are powerful generals who have command. A powerful woman doesn’t want a man with a nice vehicle with nice rims. She cares for her people. She cares to improve lifestyles besides her own. Some women believe that sex is their power. Their body is their power. But that is not the extent of a woman’s power by any means. If more women could set powerful examples, young women in our culture would create better humans.

Speaking of women and how we are perceived, in hip hop culture certain women are afforded a measure of respect and others are not. You were involved in a controversy in which you came to the defense of Kat Stacks, a self-described “hoe.” What made you think Kat Stacks deserved to be defended when she attracted so much drama and negative attention through her own actions?

When you meet a man in the hospital or grocery store that man is your brother. If that man is white or that man is black that man is your brother. If that man is Chinese that’s your Chinese brother. Whatever mind state a woman is in and whatever decisions she’s making that may be wrong, whether its to use drugs or to sell her body, that woman was born a princess. On earth we are all family members. Once you have that outlook, you can act accordingly. When it comes to a person like Kat Stacks you wish better for her. You don’t have rancor in your heart, you realize that that is a woman who was created by God and you have to respect that. He gave her lungs and eyes and she was not a mistake. She is a creation of God. How does God feel about that which God creates? If we ask ourselves that question we may find ourselves being careful to not dishonor that which God created, even if that creation has not begun to honor themselves.

You recently traveled on behalf of the United States as a cultural ambassador where you addressed thousands of young men and women whose impressions of of this country were deeply and positively impacted. Is this a new direction for Kumasi? How does civil service fit in to your goals?

This was another opportunity to serve God. I’m not into politics. I’m into people. I’m into peace. I was able to be peaceful with the people of Indonesia. I was also able to go to northern Africa. I did a song with El General (Hamada Ben Amor), the young rap artist who got locked up for speaking out against the president of Tunisia.  Last year, Time magazine named this young rapper one of the one hundred most influential people in the world.

It’s important to create alliances everywhere you go. In Paris I was able to do this. In Africa. Eventually if your voice becomes big enough you can invite people to hold hands. I’m very grateful for the opportunity.

What can we look forward to next from Kumaserati?

I am currently in the conception stage of a project that will ultimately bear magnificent fruit. I am collaborating with two women whom I deeply respect and admire, not only for their amazing talents, but for their pure intentions to help heal people’s pain and to serve the human family.

 Myself, Hope Shorter and  Tilly Key, along with producer Christian Shorter, are putting together a project that, in spirit, will be like having Lauryn Hill, Sade and Bob Marley collaborating to serve. I”m not trying to equate us talent-wise, though the talent here is crazy, but spirit-wise the intention is that huge.

The project is called “Child of The World,” and it will be geared toward educating young people about nutrition, healthy lifestyles and philanthropy via a series of non-profit concerts in major urban areas like downtown L.A., Chicago and NYC. We will bring music, message, and meals to the streets with the sole purpose of connecting to and serving our fellow man. 

Follow @Kumaserati

Soul Music is available at http://hoodgospel.bandcamp.com/album/soul-music $1 per track downloaded, or download ALL 27 TRACKS for just $3 !

I Dreamed of Rihanna’s Grandmother Last Night

Anyone who knows me knows that I believe that the dream world is much more than an odd vacation spot our brain visits as it recharges for another day. Indeed, some of my most life-altering experiences have occurred in that other world, and many of my ideas about God, the afterlife and the soul are heavily influenced by what I’ve encountered while my body and mind were “sleeping” and my soul was “dreaming.”

As a result of the visits and messages I’ve received from deceased loved ones over the years, and because of many ecstatic (miraculous) dream experiences I can’t explain (and find it difficult to describe in earthly terms), I’ve come to believe that, not only do we exist after “death,” our souls retain a powerful spiritual connection to this life.

No offense intended to anyone’s religious beliefs, or lack thereof, but the idea that the “dead” are “resting in peace” and have lost their ability to positively influence our hearts and our choices makes no sense to me.

I recently posted a story in which I shared about losing my fiance who died trying to save a drowning friend. Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of Todd’s death and I seriously considered writing about the many metaphysical experiences I have had with his soul — but I decided not to because I didn’t want to open to possible ridicule the experiences and insights that are so precious and meaningful to me.

Chicken? Absolutely.

Which brings me to my dream last night about “GranGran Dolly,” Rihanna’s beloved grandmother who recently passed away from cancer.

I should say that in real life I did not know Dolly, nor have I met or spoken to Rihanna, but I have been really hard on Rihanna verbally over the last few years, and have described her variously as “irresponsible,” “immature,” “out there” and a “terrible role model” for the millions of young girls who idolize her.

I have felt more recently that she seems lost, sad and lonely, and I have brazenly said that to folks whenever the subject of the young superstar has come up in conversation. Suffice it to say that my tone and attitude have been less than generous, and my thoughts and comments about her could definitely be described as “judgmental.”

Last night I got what I can only describe as a powerful paradigm shift via GranGran Dolly, who apparently doesn’t play when it comes to her baby girl.

I dreamed it was the Fourth of July and I was at a gathering (felt like a family reunion maybe) where Rihanna was in attendance. I walked up to introduce myself to her, and I’m not sure how to explain this, but I felt like I was meeting, not the “persona” that is Rihanna, or even the “human” that is Robyn Fenty, but the Soul behind all of that.

I reached to shake her hand, but she didn’t shake mine. Instead, she placed the palm of her hand against my face and looked in my eyes. She never said a word, but I felt in the dream like the entity looking at me was made of “Pure Joy” and “Pure Love.”

I turned to my left to see a woman (mid-30ish?) standing near Rihanna and beaming with obvious love for her. I immediately thought it was her sister because she physically resembled her, though she had much darker skin. In the dream I was thinking, I know Rihianna has a brother, but I didn’t think she had a sister.

The “sister” didn’t speak aloud, but (telepathically?) let me know Rihanna was the essence of “precious” and “pure” and that she was only only only made of Love.

Well, whoa.

I hadn’t planned to write about this today, but it’s been weighing so heavily on my mind that I finally tweeted about it: 

 

What I did not know at the time I posted that, was that Rihanna had also tweeted that morning:

I’m back at #grangrandollys for the first time without her going through her stuff,” and 

“More newspaper clippings #grangrandolly she’s the greatest”

 

And then I saw this photo she tweeted:

 

I am 100% sure that woman standing there with Rihanna is an older version of the loving “sister” that visited me last night in my dream.

In the scheme of things, I’m not sure what any of this means to anyone else, but because I experienced it personally, it has very deep meaning for me.

For me it is a lesson in not judging the journey of others or assuming we know what they are made of.

Rest In Love, Dolly.

Sometimes it Lasts…But Sometimes it Hurts Instead

“Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.” -Adele

The photo above was taken at a surprise party for Todd Barr on September 8, 2002–his last birthday on earth. I wonder if the people in attendance that day know what a tremendous gift they gave him–just by being there to say we love you and we’re glad you were born. Todd told me (many times over the following days) that day was one of the happiest of his life. It was just like him to be so appreciative of something as simple as a birthday–something he should have had dozens more of.

Todd died three weeks after this picture was taken. He was 34.

A few days ago I attended a birthday celebration for my brother who just turned 57, and as with most ceremonial events in life (weddings, births, funerals and birthdays) Todd came along with me (in spirit) to the festivities.

It was impossible not to be reminded of my deceased fiance as I watched my brother celebrate his special day, but what brought Todd to mind most powerfully for me that evening was the fact that there were so many married couples in attendance–and all of them had been together for decades–happily–according to them.

My brother and his wife went to prom together in 1974 and they remain in love after nearly 40 years. My daughter and her husband met and fell in love in high school in 1996. My sister-in-law’s aunt met and married her “best friend” 19 years ago and another couple had been “matched” by my brother and his wife over 20 years ago. Of the married couples in the room, all but one (newlyweds) were in relationships that had stood the test of time, and the word “soulmate” came up in conversation over and over that night.

So, of course, I thought of Todd often, though I didn’t speak of him in that context. His name did come up, not in a discussion about love and soul mates (I find that bringing a dead fiance into those discussions tends to bring the level of joy down in a room), but in a discussion about swimming in the Pacific ocean and its danger vs. safety.

One of the women there was saying she would never get on a boat or even go on a cruise because she was afraid of drowning in the ocean. The old (pre-Todd) me would have insisted she was missing out on a beautiful relationship with the sea, and that she should maybe reconsider, don a good life-vest, and partake of the beauty and majesty of the open water.

The new (post-Todd) me doesn’t quite see it that way. The new me now understands and can relate to being afraid.

When I was a child, I swam and body surfed in the Pacific ocean with my brothers and sisters with absolutely no fear of any dire consequences. We would swim out to catch the “big ones” and ride the waves back to shore, sometimes rolling and tumbling in the surf when an especially powerful wave hit us. We often resurfaced tangled in seaweed, gasping for air and laughing with joy at the “fun ride” the Pacific can give.

I would never do that today. Nor would I let my children.

I told the ocean-phobic woman I thought she had good reason to fear the power of the sea, then I explained to her how my fiance Todd (a very strong swimmer) drowned in it.

She stared in my eyes for a long moment and promptly changed the subject. “You are not over him,” she told me.

I know.

One thing survivors of loss know is that you don’t “get over” the loss of a loved one. Ever. What you do is experience the grief, then move forward, slowly at first, until life returns to some semblance of “normalcy.”

Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s grief model, commonly known as The Five Stages of Grief, lists 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, and 5) acceptance (not necessarily in that order) as the stages a loss-survivor will experience over time.

I can testify to all five.

But, I would add a sixth (and possibly most potentially debilitating) stage that persists long after those five stages are traversed.

6) fear.

I don’t have anything wise or witty to say about it. I can only say that I remember what it was like to be fearless, and I miss that.

Happy Birthday Todd. I miss you. I wish you didn’t have to leave so soon.

(This is a cross-post from WilliamToddBarr.wordpress.com)



1968 Olympics Black Power Salute: Ever Wonder What that White Guy Was Thinking?

When American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black fists in protest and solidarity at the Mexico City Olympic games in 1968, I was much too young to understand the significance of the moment. I do remember the controversy it stirred.

I have vague recollections of the negative and positive opinions voiced over the years by the adults in my world regarding whether the two men were heroes or fools. I recall that most of my people were of the opinion that it took immense courage for those two young men to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.

What I don’t remember is anyone ever discussing the white guy who stood there with them.

Ever.

He was the second fastest man in the world. Was he too stunned to move? Did he know in advance that this “political” statement would be made in his moment of glory? Was he as appalled by the black power symbolism as much of white America seemed to be? Was he just a bystander, or did he know in advance that he would be a participant in a civil rights protest of world-reaching proportions?

That white guy’s name was Peter Norman. On that day at the summer games Norman had just earned the 200 meter dash silver medal for his home country, Australia, and yes, he was well aware of the protest in advance. Peter spoke with his co-medalists about their plan, told them he believed in what they were doing, and wore a button on his jacket identical to the ones worn by Smith and Carlos which read “Olympic Project for Human Rights,” a black American organization formed in 1967 by amateur athletes.

The founding statement of OPHR read (in part):

We must no longer allow this country to use…a few “Negroes” to point out to the world how much progress she has made in solving her racial problems when the oppression of Afro-Americans is greater than it ever was. We must no longer allow the Sports World to pat itself on the back as a citadel of racial justice when the racial injustices of the sports industry are infamously legendary…[A]ny black person who allows himself to be used in the above matter… is a traitor to his country because he allows racist whites the luxury of resting assured that those black people in the ghettos are there because that is where they want to be… So we ask why should we run in Mexico only to crawl home?

Norman agreed with that premise, stood proudly with Smith and Carlos, and like them, he paid a heavy price for it.

Most people who are knowledgeable about that moment in history know Smith and Carlos were ejected from the games immediately and stripped of their medals. Though some in the black community hailed the men as heroes, their “official” reception back in the U.S. was beyond frigid. Both men had difficulty finding jobs and Smith was dishonorably discharged from the Army Reserve for “UnAmerican activities.” Both received death threats.

The Los Angeles Times described the raised fists of Smith and Carlos as a “Nazi-like salute.” Time magazine replaced the Olympic logo’s motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” with “Angrier, Nastier, Uglier” in their scathing version of the event. The Chicago Tribune called the act “an embarrassment visited upon the country,” an “act contemptuous of the United States,” and “an insult to their countrymen.” Sports writer Brent Musberger, in another reference to Nazis, called the two men “a pair of dark-skinned storm troopers” who were “airing dirty clothing before the entire world.”

And then there was Peter.

He returned to Australia to suffer a lifetime of sanction and ridicule. Though no Australian to date has ever been clocked running faster than him, Norman was never invited to represent his country in the Olympics again.

“As soon as he got home he was hated,” explains his nephew Matt Norman, director of the film “Salute!” a documentary Matt filmed about Peter’s life before and after the 1968 Olympics.

After hearing he’d been cut from Australia’s Munich team (despite qualifying) Norman quit running, and in 2000, when his country hosted the Olympic games in Sydney, he was not invited.

“At the Sydney Olympics he wasn’t invited in any capacity,” says Matt Norman. “There was no outcry. He was the greatest Olympic sprinter in our history…He suffered to the day he died.”

Though Carlos and Smith were eventually restored to their proper place as activists and heroes in the struggle for civil rights in America, and both were honored in 2008 at the ESPN Espy awards, Norman died an unsung hero in his homeland on October 9, 2006.

At the funeral both Smith and Carlos gave the eulogy, announcing to the mourners that the U.S. Track and Field association had declared the day of his death “Peter Norman Day” — the only time in the organization’s history that such an honor had been bestowed on a foreign athlete.

Both men helped carry Peter Norman’s coffin before it was lowered into the ground. For them, Norman was a hero.

Carlos referred to him as “A lone soldier,” for his determined stand against racism.

“Peter Norman is my brother from another mother…” said Carlos. “I’d die for him…”

For more information about the film visit Salute the Movie.

To read an excellent article about the Olympic black power salute and the events surrounding it, DO NOT MISS this informative piece by Dave Zirin, who is also the co-author of The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World.

Awesome trailer for the film Salute, the Movie. Glad I watched it. Inspiring:
[embedplusvideo height=”298″ width=”480″ standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/VcGfUuH82dQ?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=VcGfUuH82dQ&width=480&height=298&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep7888″ /]

“I believe in human rights…” – Peter Norman, 6/16/1942 – 10/3/2006

Here’s Why I Love Kola Boof

“I wish, so much, that I hadn’t stayed with the bodies over night. Because that is how I received my imagination…I could hear their blood going into the earth…And I know TOO MUCH.” -Kola Boof

Whenever I think of Kola Boof, I see an image of Naima Bint Harith, a little girl with gorgeous deep brown skin, a sweet smile and shining eyes, who, at age six, witnessed the murder of her parents.

Naima’s father, Harith Bin Farouk (a light-skinned Arab/Egyptian) and her mother, Jiddi (a blue-black Gisi-Waaq Oromo from Somalia) were both slaughtered in retaliation for Harith’s “crime” of speaking out against the enslavement of the charcoal-skinned Sudanese by the lighter-skinned Arab ruling class.

During the first night of her new life as an orphan, Naima’s innocence was dyed blood red as she spent the dark hours before dawn lying alone and traumatized with her parents’ lifeless bodies.

Within days of the murder, Naima’s Egyptian grandmother informed her orphaned grandchild—the only living child of Harith and Jiddi—that her skin was too dark for her to be welcomed into their light-skinned family. Little Naima was put up for adoption.

When I think of Kola Boof, I think of that little girl who should have been happily skipping along the banks of the Nile with her parents, but, who was instead violently and callously flung into a war against white supremacy that no human being should have to (but every human being should be willing to) fight.

It is not lost on me that had Naima’s father been unconcerned and complacent in the face of the injustice he saw, he would still be alive. Her abandonment and suffering are born of his sacrifice. Our complacency is a twisting knife.

If you don’t know who Kola Boof is, I’m going to have to let you Google her, because trying to sum up this writer/activist’s life and work in a few paragraphs is an impossible task.

Suffice it to say that the Sudan-born, D.C.-raised author of “Diary of a Lost Girl,” “Long Train to the Redeeming Sin,” and “The Sexy Part of the Bible,” writes edgy, thought-provoking, paradigm-shifting literary prose (and, at times, vicious, profane, irreverent twitter rants) that have led journalists, fans and haters to variously label her “genius,” “disturbed,” “talented,” “polarizing,” “brave,” “racist,” and, increasingly, among her hundreds of blocked haters on Twitter, “crazy black bitch.”

Though Boof can at times be found at the center of distracting social media hurricanes (like the recent drama in which she boasted about regularly sexing Djimon Honsou during his marriage to Kimora Lee Simmons), her impassioned and important message is that the earth’s dark-skinned black woman is systematically disrespected, hated, insulted and erased by those who, influenced by white supremacy, cannot or will not recognize her black beauty and her intrinsic perfection as a creation of God.

It astounds me that anyone disagrees with that message, as it is quite apparent that in every country or culture on this planet that is heavily influenced by European values, dark-skinned women with black-African hair and features are rarely held up (for its sons and daughters to look to) as models of what is beautiful, marriageable, or worthy of admiration.

Don’t even get me started on the American entertainment industry and its proliferation of images that relegate dark-skinned women to the roles of maid, mammy, slave or sex worker. But it’s not just the media that is guilty. Too many young dark-skinned girls are tormented by their family members and bullied from toddlerhood, with the terms “African,” “dark” and “nappy” being viciously hurled at them like profane weapons.

Insult is added to this injury when darker-skinned black women are uninvited or invisible in situations where light-skinned or biracial black women (whose physical features are closer to the “white ideal” of beauty) are welcomed to show off their “black” beauty. If you need an example of this blatant disregard for the plentifully pigmented sisters among us, click here, or here, or here, or here, or here.

It also astounds me that so many lighter-skinned people who profess to be about “erasing racism,” “honoring diversity” and “building unity” are so resistant to understanding Kola’s life experiences or at least listening with an open mind to her observations about the annihilation-by-rejection and psychic injury dark-skinned women are being subjected to around the world.

I get that folks are turned off by Boof’s caustic delivery and her irreverence-bordering-on-hatred for some of the world’s most revered institutions (such as Christianity and Islam). I get that people are offended by the sweeping negative generalizations she makes about the inhabitants of entire countries (especially since she so deeply and righteously resents the negative generalizations made about black women). I get that people are shocked and repulsed by Kola’s disregard for what she sees as repressive and oppressive Western moral codes.

What I don’t get is how there is this loooooong line of individuals ready to invest their energy in attacking Kola for her lifestyle, her opinions and her temper, yet there are so few champions who are willing to speak up about the HUMAN RIGHT so many black girls have been denied—the right to be seen, to be admired, to be protected and to be cherished.

I admit I am frequently appalled at the words Kola Boof uses to voice her rage against her detractors—especially the vitriol she reserves for black American men (whose psychic injury she acknowledges, but cannot forgive); but even when she is at her angriest, my gut feeling about this sister is that she created “Kola Boof” to be the warrior she needed but didn’t have on the day her parents died–a ferocious defender who should have been there to protect little Naima—the generous, intelligent, soft-hearted, world-embracing spirit that lives inside Kola.

Given the mountainous struggles that little girl faced (severe trauma, several abandonments by parental figures, adapting to American culture, learning English, rejecting colorism…) it makes perfect sense to me that her alter-ego Kola would (on the surface, at least) be so FIERCE.

Anyone who knows even a little bit about the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder a severe childhood trauma creates, knows that one of its key components is an easily triggered and exaggerated fight or flight response. It is an extremely difficult to control SURVIVAL response that has nothing to with intelligence or morals or wisdom.

Among the many symptoms PTSD sufferers deal with are:

Physical ailments with no apparent physical cause
Sleeplessness
Fear for their safety; always feeling on guard
Feelings of shame, despair, or hopelessness.
Difficulty controlling emotions.
Impulsive or self-destructive behavior.
Changed beliefs or changed personality traits.

I don’t know Kola personally and I don’t know the degree to which any or all of these symptoms affect her life, but her writings, her online presence and her tweets seem to indicate that there is much residual injury that she lives with daily. If she is suffering from PTSD, I see no reason why her life’s work to restore THE ORIGINAL AFRICAN WOMAN to her rightful pedestal of dignity and respect should be diminished by it.

“I am a very SAD, broken, damaged human being…And I live, literally, by the grace of GOD. The pain in my vagina I have spoken of…but rarely the pain in my brain and my heart.

My teeth and my bones hurt me like headaches, because I am so broken and damaged EMOTIONALLY.

People read my books and ask, “How can you write like that?” It’s because I live in constant emotional “psychotic” pain.

Don’t they understand that I saw my parents killed in front of me? Do they think a child can EVER grow up and get over that?

And now I wish, so much, that I hadn’t stayed with the bodies over night. Because that is how I received my imagination. From that night, when I could hear their blood going into the earth. I suddenly had an “imagination”. And it’s very…

And I know TOO MUCH.

Much of the vicious attacking you see me do…is mainly to make people AWARE of the rage and bitterness that they create in the world…simply by accepting the world the way it is.

That’s why I tell people…don’t accept it…REBEL.

Because although it’s too late for Naima…it’s not too late for the daughters of the future.

When YOU SEE me hurt someone, strike at someone…I’m just trying to set a new example for the MULES of the world….that we mustn’t go down without loud screaming and fighting.

…I don’t see myself living that long, and I just want to give…as an artist….what the people NEED.

And I pray for my sons to be OK. I know I’ve taught them how to make generations and where inside themselves to find answers and to find me.” -Kola

Although I have never met Ms. Boof, I interacted with her online many years ago and did speak to her once on the telephone after she wrote an amazing poem for me entitled “Angels and Insects” which she posted at the African American Literary Book Club (AALBC) discussion board where she and I crossed paths.

An inter racially married white woman on that discussion board who called herself, “Moon,” had become the target of Kola’s rage when (among other things) she refused to acknowledge that white and light-skinned privilege exists at the expense of black women. Kola was trying to get Moon to realize that privilege and injustice are inseparable and that her white privilege had a cost that she simply chose not to acknowledge (which is another privilege).

Moon was the source of much conflict on that board because she was a white visitor to a black online forum who was always in “teach” mode, and she did not seem to respect the opinions of the black women whose life experiences differed so greatly from hers. Moon was convinced that simply by mothering her mixed children and teaching them that love sees no color she was actively promoting the unity of the human family. “I don’t walk in brown skin,” she wrote, “I can sure teach children about love.”

Being the product of an interracial union myself, I joined the debate. (Forgive the use of CAPS; it was an intense conversation):

“Your children deserve more than your LOVE. They deserve to LEARN what it means to live in a society that will try to convince them they are BETTER because they came from YOU. Who is going to WORK DAILY and DILIGENTLY to undermine that lie in your household?

I am not a hater, Moon. I KNOW in my SOUL that all human beings are ONE CREATION, and these designations of racial categories are not REAL. But that does not mean human beings are not behaving as though they [the labels] are real. WE are all affected by our socializations regarding race, skin color, hair texture, innate intelligence, morality, etc. etc. etc.

You cannot toss me indescriminately onto the heap of black women who you consider jealous of you and your husband, or simply hate your whiteness. My mother is white and my father is black and I can speak on the subject of white privelege personally, because having white skin and blue eyes I am treated with UNEARNED deference just about everywhere I go.

One of the few places my physical appearance is not automatically “respected” is in the company of black women I don’t know. That is when I humbly SHUT MY MOUTH AND LISTEN so that I can LEARN more about what it means to be a black woman in America — and thereby understand more clearly what it means to be a member of the human family.

I don’t agree with everything Kola says, but I don’t take what she says personally either. I know she is “FIGHTING for her life…” Her fight to lift up black women does not diminish me….WHAT are YOU fighting for MOON? The rights of all humans, regardless of skin color, to love and intermarry? That right already EXISTS. As you said earlier, your life is proof of that.

Show me proof that Kola’s BLACK SONS are held in HIGH REGARD by this supremacist society. She is fighting for THEM, MOON. And for EVERY BLACK BABY who will be shown and told (maybe by YOUR children) that they are NOT PERFECT EXACTLY AS THEY WERE CREATED. They will be told that if their father had lain with a Scandinavian or an Asian or a Mexican or ANYTHING but their AFRICAN MOTHER they would be more beautiful or smarter or healthier or… (you know the list you’ve heard it many times).”

Kola’s response to my post was immediate, and, I believe, sincere.

…I have never denied that I have many prejudices against Bi-racial people and white people—despite that fact that I am, technically, Bi-racial and that my White Arab birth father was a great, great man who dedicated his life to the dismantling of “White Supremacy”. He called it “the world’s only true religion”.

But my “prejudice” against Bi-racials and Whites is not what I…..REALLY…..feel when I’m alone, topless in the mountain streams praying. I feel LOVE for those people—only I keep it a secret, because I fear they are against me and my sons.

It seems there are two realities co-existing within this daughter of a slain freedom fighter. There is Kola Boof, the consummate REBEL whose words and actions are symbols of her RESISTANCE to being controlled, ignored or annihilated by the spirit of white supremacy that destroyed her family and threatens her progeny.

And then, there is Naima Bint Harith whose broken heart did not lose its capacity to love us all.

I wrote and posted this short poem on the AALBC discussion boards eight years ago. It still reflects why I love her:

Naima peels back her own skin
with life-sharpened nails
and we peer inside

inside her

and exclaim,

see, a huge heart
oh, and innards
soft, open, vulnerable

and in her exposure
we are exposed
safe, selfish, cowardly

and still
she names us
sister

Click here to read “Angels & Insects” by Kola Boof.

Happy Birthday to Me, Tupac and a White Dude Who Dyed for Freedom (not a typo)

 Today is my birthday. And Tupac’s Too.

Another June 16th human being I really love is John Howard Griffin.

I hope you already know all about this man, but if not, he was a White anti-racist who grew up in the South and wanted to do something to reach the hearts and minds of White Americans, most of whom were in denial about the conditions under which Black people lived.

Griffin conducted an experiment in 1959 that included shaving his head, darkening his skin with lamps and pharmaceuticals and living as a Black man in the deep south.

Though he endured for several weeks, he ended up cutting the experiment short, as he found that being a Black man was too difficult for him to maintain for long. He wrote a book about his experiences that made him a celebrity and (to some) a villain.

“Nothing can describe the withering horror of this. You feel lost, sick at heart before such unmasked hatred, not so much because it threatens you as because it shows humans in such an inhuman light. You see a kind of insanity, something so obscene the very obscenity of it (rather than its threat) terrifies you. It was so new I could not take my eyes from the man’s face. I felt like saying: “What in God’s name are you doing to yourself?”

“Suddenly I had had enough. Suddenly I could stomach no more of this degradation- not of myself but of all men who were black like me.”

 

“When all the talk, all the propaganda has been cut away, the criterion is nothing but the color of skin. My experience proved that. They judged me by no quality. My skin was dark.”

Mr. Griffin knew when he conducted his experiment he would forever be putting himself at odds with those in America who didn’t want the ugliest realities of racism to be exposed and so vividly expressed by someone White. After his book “Black Like Me” was published in 1961 he and his family received continual death threats. They left their Texas home and eventually moved to Mexico.

“John Howard Griffin was one of the most remarkable people I have ever encountered…He was just one of those guys that comes along once or twice in a century and lifts the hearts of the rest of us.” -Studs Terkel

Here is an excellent article about Griffin’s life, his experiment and his writings: JimCrowMuseum

“It seems to me that our country is involved in a kind of mass insanity where you can abuse the gift of sight in order to use it to discriminate against somebody.” – John Howard Griffin

♥ HIM !

Asian Activist Scot Nakagawa: “White Supremacy Has a Special Relationship with Blacks”

 If you have ever attended a cultural sensitivity training or participated in a forum or workshop exploring issues of race and racism, you have probably noticed that when the dialogue moves to a specific focus on white/black relations (and the ferocity with which institutionalized racism impacts black people and communities) someone in the room will object.

The objection is often couched in terms that sound inclusive, like “What about Native Americans? They’ve suffered too.” or “That’s not really different from how gays are discriminated against.”

It can be an exasperating moment for those in the room who realize that any authentic effort to focus a lens on the concept of “white supremacy” will invariably lead to a discussion about white on black racism. Not because it is “more important,” than any other expression of racism, but because, as activist Scot Nakagawa so aptly puts it, “Blackness is the fulcrum.”

At his blog RaceFiles.com, Nakagawa states:

I’m often asked why I’ve focused so much more on anti-black racism than on Asians over the years. Some suggest I suffer from internalized racism.

That might well be true since who doesn’t suffer from internalized racism? I mean, even white people internalize racism. The difference is that white people’s internalized racism is against people of color, and it’s backed up by those who control societal institutions and capital.

But some folk have more on their minds. They say that focusing on black and white reinforces a false racial binary that marginalizes the experiences of non-black people of color. No argument here. But I also think that trying to mix things up by putting non-black people of color in the middle is a problem because there’s no “middle.”

So there’s most of my answer. I’m sure I do suffer from internalized racism, but I don’t think that racism is defined only in terms of black and white. I also don’t think white supremacy is a simple vertical hierarchy with whites on top, black people on the bottom, and the rest of us in the middle.

So why do I expend so much effort on lifting up the oppression of black people? Because anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy. A fulcrum is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the support about which a lever turns” or, alternatively, “one that supplies capability for action.” In other words, if you want to move something, you need a pry bar and some leverage, and what gives you leverage is the fulcrum – that thing you use so the pry bar works like a see-saw…while there’s no bottom, there is something like a binary in that white people exist on one side of these dynamics – the side with force and intention. The way they mostly assert that force and intention is through the fulcrum of anti-black racism.

 

Please read the full text of his article, and know why I so appreciate Nakagawa’s take on this issue, not because this point was never brilliantly and succinctly addressed by others, including contemporary black writers like Dr. Joy DeGruy, Michael Eric Dyson and Michelle Alexander, but because whenever this sentiment is expressed in any public way by a black person it is mis-perceived as self-serving (read: whining).

When non-black anti-racist activists like Nakagawa, Edward James Olmos and Tim Wise speak about the unique impact of white supremacy on black people, and acknowledge that its eradication will herald the eradication of racism for all groups, a significant number of people will find the message more palatable.

Perhaps a significant number will also find their way into this struggle to internalize the concept of the oneness of humanity, become devoted to dismantling white supremacy and work to purge our institutions, homes and hearts of the insidious (often subtle) blight of racism. . .

. . .both the external and internalized versions.

Justus, Joshua and James: 3 Black Chess Players Achieve Master Ranking at Age 12


There are some 77,000 members of the United States Chess Federation and fewer than 2 percent of them are excellent enough players to be called “masters.”

Of those masters, just 13 of them are under the age of 14.

Of those 13, three are African American boys from the New York City area — Justus Williams, Joshua Colas and James Black, Jr. — each achieved master status at age 12.

“Masters don’t happen every day, and African American masters who are 12 never happen,” said Maurice Ashley, the only black chess master to earn the top title of grandmaster. “To have three young players do what they have done is something of an amazing curiosity. You normally wouldn’t get something like that in any city of any race.”

Maurice Ashley, World’s First Black Chess Grandmaster

Ashley, now 45, became a master at age 20 and a grandmaster at 34.

The Chess Federation uses a rating system to measure ability based on the results of matches won in officially sanctioned events. A player reaching a rating of 2,200 qualifies for master.

Justus was the first of the three boys to get to 2,200, making him the youngest black player ever to obtain the master rank. Not long after Justus achieved that rare honor, Joshua replaced him in the record books by achieving master ranking while still a few months younger than Justus was. James, now 13, became a master at age 12 in July, 2011.

Although they are competitors, the boys are also friends who recognize that others see them as role models.

“I think of Justus, me and Josh as pioneers for African American kids who want to take up chess,” James said.

All three of the boys have set their sights on becoming grandmasters by the time they graduate from high school, a feat only a few dozen players in the world have achieved.

One of my all time favorite movies is “Searching for Bobby Fisher,” about a young chess wiz. This scene stands as one of my top ten favorite scenes ever. You have to see the whole movie for the “trick or treat” reference to have its full impact, but you gotta love the suspense this director was able to create in a game that could be a boring spectator sport for the uninitiated:

[embedplusvideo height=”350″ width=”430″ standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/dcmn3Ft0pYA?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=dcmn3Ft0pYA&width=430&height=350&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep2921″ /]

“You’ve lost, you just don’t know it.” Ahhh, I LOVE this movie. That scene makes my eyes water every time.

Please share this if you believe the story of these three young black chess players who are friends and rivals in a world where they are considered a “curiosity” would make an awesome movie.

By Kathleen Cross for rollingout.com

(Originally published 11/2012)

Schooling Carmen Available Free on Amazon.com (for 24 Hours Only)

More on Schooling Carmen at Amazon.com

My novel Schooling Carmen is available in Kindle format free at Amazon.com for the next 24 hours.

*(Usually $4.99, but for 24 hours, that is until MIDNIGHT (pst) May 7th you can get it free.)

“Cross quickly pulls her readers in…It’s not her style to do anything ordinary, or expected.” — Detroit Free Press

“…my favorite book.” –Actress, Lauren London

“…sexy and smart, yet also thought-provoking and timely–with an intriguing touch of mystery.” –HarperCollins

“Moved me to more than tears…changed my outlook on life. Kathleen Cross will be added to my top-ten list.” — Tina Burns for The Road to Romance

Some of the “tags” that describe this novel’s content are:

beautiful, bigoted, faith, friendship, healing, homosexuality, immigration, karma, life after death, los angeles lakers, love, marriage, metaphysics, sexual harassment, social justice, sex, spirituality…

Note: You do not need a Kindle reader to read this e-book. Simply download the free Kindle software onto your smart phone, tablet or PC.

Book Description:
Desperate to stand out in a family of overachievers, beautiful, bigoted, and bitchy Carmen DuPrè will do anything to leave the “hellhole” high school she works in—even if it means getting groped by a geezer who promises her a promotion.

She’s not worried about things getting out of hand though—if there’s one thing Carmen knows, it’s how use her looks to get what she wants—including courtside Lakers seats and diamond jewelry—from attentive men she cares nothing about.

But when a devastating medical diagnosis threatens to permanently knock her off her pedestal, Carmen might have to trade her looks for her life—and she’s not sure a life without beauty is worth living—which is why she’s risking hers by ignoring her doctor’s advice.

Is it coincidence or divine intervention when a sexy stranger walks into her world insisting there’s a whole lot more to Carmen DuPrè than what’s on the surface? If it’s not too late for her to turn things around, her mysterious guardian angel wants to dish out some serious schooling in a few subjects Carmen knows little about—like faith, hope…and love.

NY Post Writer Phil Mushnick is Happy to be Entertained by Ni – – ers, Until They Get Uppity

New York Post writer Phil Mushnick is apparently comfortable with talented “niggers” chasing a basketball around for his entertainment —and his kids can listen to their music— but when a wealthy black man has the gall to actually OWN a NBA team franchise and express an owner’s prerogative to make branding decisions, well that just sends Phil over the deep end.

With the Nets recent move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, fans and foes expected to see major changes in the franchise, including new team colors, which were previously red, white and blue. The team now wears black and white. Mushnick wrote,

“As long as the Nets are allowing Jay-Z to call their marketing shots — what a shock that he chose black and white as the new team colors to stress, as the Nets explained, their new “urban” home — why not have him apply the full Jay-Z treatment? Why the Brooklyn Nets when they can be the New York N – – – – – s? The cheerleaders could be the Brooklyn B – – – hes or Hoes. Team logo? A 9 mm with hollow-tip shell casings strewn beneath. Wanna be Jay-Z hip? Then go all the way!”

The Brooklyn Bitches or Hoes? Really, Phil? Mushnick is adamant that his rant was not in any way racist. He told Village Voice journalist James King,

“I don’t call black men niggas; my kids never heard the word until folks such as Jay-Z came along. I’d suggest you talk to him about it.”

This kind of feigned innocence is nothing new, but Phil’s brand of bold line-crossing seems to be more prevalent than ever in “post-racial” America where our President is referred to as a nigga, nigger, tar baby, and countless other disparaging terms that have undeniably racist intent.

I don’t know why Phil’s so offended by the choice of black and white for the Nets anyway. Why can’t black and white represent something positive like opposites uniting to create magic?

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony side by side on my piano key board, so Phil…

O_o

…why can’t we?

Ten Most Irreverent (Funny?) Tweets About the Fire at Tyler Perry Studios

So, if you’re a frequent visitor to my blog you already know I am NOT a Tyler Perry hater, but plenty of folks are, as evidenced by the sheer volume (and spitefulness) of tweets regarding the 4-alarm fire that caused a building to collapse at Perry’s Atlanta studio.

When the story broke, Twitter lit up immediately with hundreds of heart-felt sentiments, like these reflecting concern for Perry and his employees:

And, then there were the haters:

I refer to the tweets as irreverent because it was not yet known if anyone had been killed or injured. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the blaze, and Perry is likely quite well-insured, so everyone can feel free to laugh at his misfortune. Besides, the man made all his money writing comedy. He knows a good punchline, so he’d probably laugh at some of these himself.

But you know there’s always someone who crosses the line, and we won’t spend too much time or attention on those tweets, but here’s one example :

“Priscilla” tweeted this to (all 89 of) her followers:

Priscilla better watch her back. Madea is armed and dangerous.

:/

‘Preezy of the United Steezy’ Barack Obama Slow Jams the News with Jimmy Fallon & The Roots

[embedplusvideo height=”275″ width=”440″ standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/vAFQIciWsF4?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=vAFQIciWsF4&width=440&height=275&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep6423″ /]

“Aw yeahhhh. You should listen to the President.”

Whether or not you agree with his premise that college loan interest rates should not double, and whatever side of the aisle you view this president from, you gotta admit he is just the epitome of cool.

I wonder who they’ll get to play him in the biopic a decade or so from now.

If You Noticed My Silence…

My last few months were spent being pounded by monster waves in this beautiful and at times ferocious sea of life. But I have, at last, found calmer waters, have surfaced for air, and am back at the keyboard.

Thank you to all who sent healing prayers for my little one and hang-in-there prayers for me.

After 5 emergency room visits, 28 days of hospitalization, countless “pokey things” (e.g. any procedure in which a needle is used), too many Xrays, 3 bone scans,  2 MRIs, 2 surgical bone biopsies, one unnecessary picc line insertion (inserted and removed the same day), a terrifying incident in which we learned Jadyn is allergic to morphine, and more hours of excruciating pain than any toddler should ever ever ever experience…

Jadyn is doing really WELL!

No more IVs or Xrays. No more wheelchairs. She is back to her happy, dancing, skipping self and has not had any pain at all since her recent diagnosis (a super rare inflammatory bone condition) and treatment. She is doing so well, she started school this morning, and she’s one happy little girl.

Actually, Jadyn remained happy throughout this entire experience. I, however, with my grown-up fears, judgments, doubts and, at times, RAGE was emotionally and spiritually exhausted after months of mis- and missing diagnoses. I focused on maintaining an outward expression of parental calm and faith in the Divine, while inwardly fearing that I might drown.

Through it all, I learned some great lessons from Jadyn’s awesome little self.

One night around 2 a.m., Jadyn’s pain medication wore off (again) 30 minutes before she was due for another dose. She cried and cried and repeated “It hurts too much” over and over while we waited for the nurse to hear back from the doctor with authorization to give her more medicine. Watching any child suffer is excruciating, but when it is your child and she is turning to you for relief? There are no words to describe that. I silently begged God for mercy and I tried to be strong for her, but I couldn’t hold back the tears, and when she saw that I was hurting, Jadyn forgot about her own pain for a moment and said to me with absolute certainty, “It’s going to be okay, Mommy.”

She said it like she knew something I didn’t.

The morning of her (2nd) bone biopsy, she emerged from general anesthesia (with all those wires still connected to her), opened her eyes and smiled at me. Her first words: “Do you think I could go to the playroom today?”

The following day a physical therapist came in the room with a miniature walker. I’d seen one of those (the adult-sized version) plenty of times, and so had Jadyn. My 84-year-old mother has one that she uses when her arthritis and fibromyalgia get the best of her.

Did I mention Jadyn is 4?

She was pretty excited to get her hands on the thing, but I was demolished by it. I had to leave the room for a minute to pull myself together. I interpreted the walker as a symbol of defeat. I feared that whatever the monster was that was crippling my daughter was winning the battle, and this little contraption looked to me like the monster’s Iwo Jima flag.

Jadyn had no such misconception. She saw the “crutch” for what it was–a chance to run again. Here she is taking it for a spin for the first time:

It occurred to me as I watched my child limping through the halls of Children’s Hospital with her new found freedom, that I was watching with dread and self pity a scene another mother might be begging God to witness. My daughter’s “curse” could be a wheelchair bound child’s blessing. And, even the wheelchair bound child’s “curse” is a blessing many the mother of a terminally ill or deceased child would give her own life for.

Jadyn’s name means “thankful.”

That. Says. It. All.

One on One with ‘Alpha’s’ Star, Malik Yoba

As an award-winning actor, a playwright and a published author. He composes and performs original music and is a gifted singer, lyricist and poet. He’s a sex symbol. A motivational speaker. He’s a philanthropist and a father.  It is an impressive list of titles, adjectives and accolades that describe this man, which makes it even more praiseworthy that in a line of work where there is so much focus on success and celebrity, Malik Yoba sees himself first and foremost as “a servant.”

That actually makes perfect sense when you know his backstory. Named Abdul at birth, which means “servant” in Arabic, Yoba was raised in a strict Muslim household by a fiercely religious and activist father. Malik’s father was a black nationalist who rejected his own birth name, Milton Myers, and instead called himself Erutan Yob—a name he created by spelling backwards the title of the popular Nat King Cole song, “Nature Boy.” Erutan Yob then added an “a” to his new surname and defined the word Yoba as “wrath of the slaves, a new generation.”

I recently spoke one-on-one with Malik Yoba and learned many interesting things about this brilliant and intriguing brother:

“My parents named me Abdul Malik which means ‘servant of the King.’ Growing up in Harlem, people never said my name correctly. I was called Adoobee, Abdoobuhlee, Aboo. Ab.  I remember consciously deciding at seventeen that no one was going to call me servant anymore—If  you’re going to call me anything, call me Malik; call me ‘king.’  The irony is, today, in terms of my life and my purpose, I see myself as a servant, and I’ve come back to embrace the name I was born with.”

Yoba has found that one of the many ways he is able to be of service to others is in the entertainment industry, where he can stand up for and reach out to young people who very often don’t have a healthy or accurate representation of manhood in their lives.

“I know what my presence in popular culture has meant to many many men and boys. And to women as well.  I’ve been in this game 20 years and I know what my impact has been with the roles that I’ve played, and I know who comes up and talks to me about that. I believe in the power of film and television and music and art to communicate ideas. Not to preach, but to communicate.”

Hollywood is a place that has chewed up and spit out many an aspiring actor, yet Malik‘s longevity is as impressive as his filmography is diverse. Among the many roles Yoba has played, there has been an Olympic bobsledder, a beat cop, an astronaut, a judge, and most recently, a uniquely gifted FBI agent on the new series Alphas, which airs on the SyFy Channel Mondays at 10pm.

“I haven’t had this much fun doing anything, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of the projects I’ve worked on. There’s action, there’s comedy, there’s the human element, the sci-fi element and it’s a thriller. I just read the episode we’re shooting next week and I’ve never had this experience where I’m reading the script and I’m shook. It’s scary.”

As pleased as he is to be connected to the Alphas project, ironically, when Malik was first approached to do the series, he declined. His manager and agents pressed him to read the script and he found the project too unique to resist.  But, the fact that he’s in Toronto filming Alphas for months at a time hasn’t distracted Malik from pursuing the next phase of his career—the one in which he produces and directs his own projects.

“The first film I’m going to direct is called “What’s On the Hearts of Men. One of the central themes is fatherhood and manhood and different perspectives of what fatherhood means to different men. So many young men don’t have men in their lives.”

The impression Malik’s own father left on his life stands as a testament to what the film’s intention is—to explore how manhood and fatherhood are acted out on the real stage of life.

“I honor my father in the film even though there are many things about him I did not like and I definitely won’t pass on to my kids. The way I got beat as a kid would absolutely put him in jail today. I got beat with extension cords like a slave until I bled. Butt naked extension cord abuse. And, my father was tied to a chair and beaten by his father, and his grandfather was a slave. So, when you think about all of that legacy-wise and what your parents leave you with…I will not pass that on to my children. I am super affectionate with my kids.” 

Malik has three children by two women he did not marry, which contradicts his long-held desire to create and maintain a solid family.

“I had been wanting to get married since I was a little kid. Like how little girls dream about their wedding, I was the little boy who did that,” Malik admits. “I would pull out maps of the world and, literally, I was living in the Bronx and wondering where my wife was…I always thought she was somewhere else on the planet. And then my life and career happened and you see the world for what it really is. I was disillusioned about marriage because I saw so much infidelity around me, particularly in my 20s. But, after having children and having relationships that didn’t work out, I felt it would be nice to finally get that part right.”

Malik married the beautiful actress Cat Wilson in 2003, but the marriage didn’t survive. They separated in 2010 just as Malik’s appearance in “Why Did Why Did I Get Married 2” was on its way to theaters.

“Now I don’t feel the need to get married…I have my children, and after everything I’ve experienced I don’t have regrets. I definitely love women and I’ve been loved. I date now, but I won’t commit.”

Malik’s own answer to Tyler Perry’s cinematically explored question, “Why Did I Get Married?” is not a simple one. He says his observations of his own and other men’s actions have just led him to ask more questions.

“There is a different conversation to be had to really, really get into why we get married. What’s really going on in the emotional lives of men? Men are liars. Priests lie. Politicians. Business men. Sportsmen. F***ing Liars. What are we going to do about that? I think we need to have honest conversations about that. No one’s honest about all this abuse of women. Where is the outrage from men? Men are not outraged. Men are not outspoken against the abuse of women or children.”

These are themes Malik Yoba will continue to explore as he tackles future film projects, and pursues his music and singing career—a career only his most devoted fans (or those who happen upon one of his live performances) are aware of.

“Music is my little bastard child. My acting career has eclipsed my music, but the goal is to do more. I would love to have a music career that is on par with my acting career. I’m a 43 year old black dude who plays and sings soulful acoustic music and the labels are like ‘If we put you out, how are we going to market you?’”

Acoustic soul from the ever sexy and sincere Malik Yoba sounds good to this fan. Hello, record labels. I’d definitely buy that.

Follow Malik on Twitter @MalikYoba and Facebook

Know Good White People: Wrestling the term ‘White Pride’ Out of the Hands of the Klan

Jean Rankin was a wife and mother of thirteen children living in a modest home overlooking the Ohio river in what was the “free state” of Ohio. Through her window she could see a clear and gorgeous view of Kentucky, where thousands of enslaved African Americans lived under the cruel system of American chattel slavery.

For forty years, leading up to the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, Jean and her husband John opened their home to offer food, lodging and directions further north to nearly 2000 fugitive slaves seeking freedom.

As a mother, and as an American woman who descended from enslaved Africans, I am awed and humbled by this family. When I think about putting my own freedom and my own children’s lives at risk to serve others, it is a frightening, daunting idea.

While researching this subject of whtie anti-racists in American history, I am finding hundreds of stories of courageous and inspiring people like the Rankins who have been left out of mainstream hero worship. I hope you will agree that it is time to remedy that omission. These are amazing American heroes our children should know about.

Know Good White People: Wrestling the term ‘White Pride’ Out of the Hands of the Klan is an homage to anti-racist white Americans whose lives embodied the ideals of “freedom and justice for all” that our forefathers prescribed at the birth of this nation. Why have they been excluded from our national memory? What has their absence done to our collective psyche in terms of race relations?

The idea for this project came, in part, from an article I read about a young girl named Lisa McClelland who tried to start a “Caucasian Club” at her high school. Long story short—for her own safety, she eventually had to change schools.

Prior to her exile to another campus, the 15-year-old insisted her proposed club would be “a positive organization dedicated to honoring diversity” and a place to learn more about what it means to be white.

Amid the firestorm of controversy Lisa sparked, a KKK representative welcomed her to join their group, and the local NAACP spokesman slammed her idea, calling it racist in name, if not intent. He said,

“When we use the word ‘white’ or ‘Caucasian,’ it has always been associated with racial bigotry. Using that term opens up old wounds…”

What message is sent to young people with the omission of white anti-racist heroes from our national history? White Americans will not (should not?) bother themselves with issues of racial justice?