Like It’s Still 1999 . . .

prince r.i.p.Let my elementary and junior high school friends (and mom) tell it, I once had a rather unhealthy infatuation with the legend and genius we have come to call Prince.  I stopped adoring celebrities in that kind of way long ago but I have always been someone who would ride or die for everything before Purple Rain (For You, Prince, Dirty Mind, and Controversy) + “If I Was Your Girlfriend” + “Adore” + so much more.  At eleven years old in 1982, Prince’s 1999 was the first vinyl album I ever bought for myself, by myself, with my own money earned from babysitting. No borrowing or asking adults when it came to this album! The track, “Lady Cab Driver,” was my ultimate center of gravity though I couldn’t possibly have understood what that song was talking about (see the music player above).

“Purple Rain” seems to be literally playing in homes, cars, stores— all around me— right now, a song whose coupling of deep sadness and triumph I am only now appreciating. It had never occurred to me that I would take Prince’s loss this hard, though the OldSkool block parties here in my hometown of Brooklyn sure do make the mourning so much sweeter. There will be memorials and tantalizing stories of Prince’s death in the days to come, I am sure. During all of that (pending) mayhem, I’m going to just sit with my 11-year-old self and the woman I am now who understands “Purple Rain” so much better.

An AfroDigital Sign O’ the Times: A Big Sista Hug to Akilah Johnson

akilahIf you did a  google search at any time today, then you immediately noticed today’s Google Doodle by Akilah Johnson.  Johnson, a high school tenth grader, won this year’s Doodle for Google contest, winning a 30K college scholarship and 50K worth of technology for her school.  I did not actually know about the contest but was immediately drawn to Johnson’s doodle called “My AfroCentric Life.”

My initial reaction was related to the adult coloring book trend. I have been curious in the past few months about adult coloring books and their supposed connection to mindfulness and mental health. I tend to flip through the pages when I encounter one.  Though I have an abundant supply of colored pencils and markers, I seldom use these utensils for any concentrated creativity anymore.  More importantly, I’ve never been compelled to actually purchase one of these coloring books because I am not particularly inspired by the designs, though I appreciate their intricacy.  I am always annoyed that Africanized cultures are ommitted despite the undeniable power of pattern and design in African visual life.  Though I contemplate doing my own Afrocentric pages, I just never managed to do that work.  When I saw Johnson’s artwork, I thought: see THERE it is!  Her signature black sharpie, black crayon, and colored pencil style should be an inspiration for what an Afrocentric coloring book and line-design project could offer.

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(Re-Blogged) Happy Mother’s Day to the Women Who Have Kept Me

mothers-day-poetry-2015After my mother lost her job in the recession crunch a few years ago, I had to do some financial wizardry and move her from Ohio to Brooklyn and become a new head-of-household of sorts (I have always been able to make a dollah outta 15cents but this took a little EXtra creativity).  As I get older, I realize that most of us daughters will be facing similar circumstances in caring for aging parents. My mother, however, does not consider herself aging so we go to a Jazz Brunch/Bar in Manhattan every Mother’s Day and by Jazz, I mean a real quartet that does covers like “All Blues” from Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, NOT that Kenny-G-Twinkle-Twinkle foolishness.  It has only been in the last few years that I have even been in the same city as my mother on Mother’s Day so I figure we may as well go all out. And the older I am and the more older sistahs I know (who remind you to count the blessing of your mother’s time with you), I realize that every moment counts since having lotsa time with your Mama is no longer something we can take as much for granted.

"Fruit of Generosity" by Leslie Ansley (exhibited at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in 2012)

“Fruit of Generosity” by Leslie Ansley (exhibited at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in 2012)

I must admit that I like a day to put it all on pause for mothers. For me, that means all the women in my family who have raised me… which is a lot.  I have strong memories of being a little girl and various adults, especially my family and close neighbors, asking me: “who keep you when your momma work?”  OR “who keepin you right now?” (the second question was for when I was on a part of the block where I wasn’t supposed to be or at the corner store without permission). Who keep you?  That’s always been a favorite expression of mine.  No one in my family or immediate kin network ever asked “who babysits you?”   I was never babysat, I was always KEPT.

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Congratulations, Andrene!

andrene congrats

Click here for Andrene’s ePortfolio, PRETTY FOR A BLACK GIRL (created in her first-semester “Freshman English” course)!

Thank you also to the Africana Studies Department’s willingness to embrace what Abdul Alkalimat, in his definition of eBlack Studies, has called “a new conception of mapping our existence in cyberspace.”  We are proud of you, Andrene!

Self-Determined: The Final Four

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Since Cyber Monday, I have been on a quest to find children’s book that positively reflect Christmas in the context of African American cultures, children, and families.  It started out rough but ended well. 

Since today is officially the second day of Kwanzaa, the day of Kujichagulia (self-determination)— my favorite of the Nguzo Saba–– it  seems appropriate to share my other favorite books from my Cyber Monday adventure today.

Addy’s Surprise

ASI have never followed the American Girl series.  I think it’s because of those scary-lookin dolls that they sell. I knew of Addy’s Stories but have never followed the work of Connie Porter.  That changed this Cyber Monday as I began to take a closer look at the series, especially the one that focuses on Christmas, Addy’s Surprise.  I love the way the little girl and her mother are described in the cold winter of Philadelphia, as well as Addy’s concern for her family who is still enslaved.  Christmas here is, obviously, not about toys and things, but all about the passions and joy of memory and care.  I have not finished the entire series yet, but plan to do so.

Waiting for Christmas

waitingThis is a beautifully illustrated book by Jan Spivey Gilchrist and written by Monica Greenfield (daughter of noted author, Eloise Greenfield). It is the poem-story of a brother and sister on the days and nights before Christmas: playing in the snow, sitting with family at the fireplace, decorating a tree, and finally being able to wish everyone a merry day.  I enjoyed the short poem-story in its brilliant simplicity along with the beautiful renderings of this sweet little boy and girl.

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Mim’s Christmas Jam

MimThe name, Pinkney, looms large in African American children’s literature. Jerry Pinkney, noted watercolor artist/illustrator, is the father of Brian Pinkney, whose dynamic use of scratchboard has become his own signature style in children’s literature.  Andrea, an editor-writer, and Brian married and have created a virtual canon of children’s literature.  Mim”s Christmas Jam is one noted example. The story begins with a young brother and sister, Saraleen and Royce, fondly remembering their Christmas traditions with their father who will not be with them to celebrate.  Their father must work in New York City to build the subway, rough and dangerous work that offers no vacation.  They send their father his favorite treat in the world, their mother’s special Christmas jam (a recipe is included in the book).  The jam is so sweet that even their father’s bosses are inclined to give workers the day off for Christmas and with that, Saraleen and Royce, receive their Christmas wish: the return of their father.

Christmas Makes Me Think

christmas-makes-me-think-tony-medina-coverLast, but not least, is Tony Medina’s Christmas Makes Me Think. Medina captures the way a little boy experiences all of the wonders of Christmas: the joys and contradictions.  The little boy, the narrator and source of consciousness, offers a compelling viewpoint.  He cherishes helping his grandmother bake a chocolate cake and seeing the tree and presents in his home.  But he also questions the desire to cut down trees and kill animals to serve on the table.  As he thinks about new gifts and the things he already has, he wants us to notice the homeless and poor who have nothing while he has excess.  Christmas makes him think… about other people, not just himself.  It is a wonderful message told from the voice of a young black boy who is one of the most believable characters I have seen!

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