Thankful AND Unsatisfied

Tis the season to be thankful! This is typically the time of year when most of us get super sentimental and take inventory of our lives, pausing for a moment and becoming careful to choose gratitude for all of the people, things and circumstances that shape our reality daily.

It is, indeed, a beautiful time of year that can also be laden with a bit of sorrow for those of us whose past 365 have not been optimal or have been filled with loss and heartache. Still, the messages all around beckon us to point our hearts and minds toward thankfulness. It can seem like there is no room for anything else. Just thankfulness. And joy. And gladness. As our little girls bounce home with school made artwork reflecting these same sentiments, there is the temptation to be lulled into the season and put every other emotion aside in order to be fully present with the folks around us who seem to have drank every cup of the thankfulness tea they were offered. I’d just like to offer one small edit to all of this merriment.

We have had a YEAR, y’all.

It has certainly been FULL of so many opportunities to witness the awesome moments and achievements of Black women and girls all around the world, even noting the strides seen as recently as in the election that took place earlier this month. We have so many reasons to celebrate and be thankful for ourselves; our perseverance, determination, tenacity, boldness– all attributes that have led us to some noteworthy and incredible victories. But, we have had a YEAR, y’all. The frustrations and ignorance represented in the present administration, protests (spanning from Charlottesville and the NFL to the women’s marches and other gatherings both well known and little known), the recent upsurge of attention to the sexual violence and harassment done to women in Hollywood and Capitol Hill (and the response to said claims in comparison to how cases centering Black women have been handled. Yea. It’s a thing) . . . the list goes on.

There seems to be an undertone coming from critics of folks who have decided to seek change and activate, that we should just be . . .thankful. So much progress has been made, so many folks fought for us, even being told that it is disrespectful to want more equity, or to want change and that we should just be happy that things have progressed to the point where they are . . . . BULL. We want more and that has nothing to do with our gratitude for the good, no matter how small, that we have experienced thus far.

So, this Thanksgiving season, know that you can be thankful and unsatisfied. You can look across the room at your family or friends and you can see the gaps in your reality and theirs and you don’t have to quiet that voice that tells you there is more, go get it. Black women are a mighty people group with sizzling blood coursing through our veins. We are ever thinking, ever resolving, ever planning, ever caring, ever activists prepared to pave a new road for ourselves or the ones we love. We cannot help it. We have to be intentional about taking time to care for ourselves because our autopilot is set to make sure everyone else is good. A mind like that always sees the gaps! So you decide. You can choose to take a break from caring and just choose thankfulness. We get to do that. You can choose to think about how you’ll continue to push for better circumstances for yourself and your people. Or, you can do both. Just know that a thankful heart can also be an unsatisfied one . . and that can lead to great things . . .

 

Photo Credit: Pirkle Jones, found on the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture

Today, we are happy to share Donna-Marie Winn’s beautiful story about sisterhood of acceptance. Enjoy!

“Come to my house this Friday, so you can meet your NC daddy,” she said as we walked down the cavernous, glistening halls of the NC legislative building.

My mind bristled. “What? Wait. You don’t know me. My daddy lives in Dallas.” So, in my most deferential, always-respect-your-elders voice I said, “Sure, I’d be happy to.”

Truth be told, I thought her statement was weird. She knew nothing about me. Well, almost nothing. We’d met a mere several months ago. She chaired a committee on Youth Violence Prevention, and I had somehow managed to get on her committee. She ran that committee with a joy, healthy skepticism and authority that left me practically speechless, until she called on me.

I noticed that with every passing meeting she began to call on me more and more until after a while, it only took a “look” from her to know that it had been too long since I’d added my voice to the conversation. Soon we began to talk after the sessions, just light chit-chat.

“Where are you from?”

New Orleans.

“How did you get to Duke?”

A job after finishing my degree at UNC-CHapel Hill.

“Do you have family in North Carolina?”

I don’t really have family west of the Mississippi.

Hot fried fish. Hearty, belly laughs. Corn. Kind touches. Potatoes. Political insights. Desserts. Dirty jokes. All of these were ingredients of my first meal in her home that Friday and countless other meals to follow.

Donna-MarieTo be clear, I wasn’t her only “daughter,” she had many. Her heart was so vast that she would have had many more daughters if there were more hours in the day. “This is my daughter, Dr. Donna-Marie Winn.” Always my whole name. Always my title. She’d say it boldly and often, anytime and anywhere, always evoking feelings of warmth and deep pride within me. She’d even brazenly claim me as her daughter in front of her church congregation and my biological mother. Both situations required further explanation afterwards.

That she decided to claim me as her own changed my life. Being showered with her protection, affection, connection, and correction did that even for a 30-something year old, strong-willed woman like me. It was because she accepted me fully into her life that NC began to feel like home. I began to claim myself more fully. I began to feel a more urgent, internal push to live my purpose out loud.

It has been nearly 20 years since Senator Jeanne Hopkins Lucas claimed me for the first time and nearly 9 years since she did it for the last. She made her transition on her own terms — with as much caring, intellectual clarity, and compassion as only she could do. I was blessed to be there to bear witness as she slowly turned her gaze towards the hereafter.

My “You-don’t-know-me’s!” stopped that first Friday night, before I left her home. My “Why-me’s?” Have virtually subsided. But, my “Thank-God-you-chose-me’s” will continue. Forever.

Sisterhood of Suffering: Presence of a woman who stood (or stands) beside you when you could not stand on your own due to some level of suffering or loss.  Today we are grateful to share Nikki’s personal story about battling depression with the love and support of her dear friends. Listen to how her sisterhood of suffering turned into a sisterhood of triumph. Thank you Nikki for sharing your story.

 

 

 

Maya Corneille is a writer, professor, scholar and most importantly — a mother. In today’s sisterhood story, Maya shares a personal story about the love and support she receives from her sister-friend while raising her daughter.

 

Weeks after my daughter turned two, I started hearing progressively scary words, “Autism like behaviors” turned into “high risk for autism” and then finally “autism spectrum disorder.”

Appointments full of descriptions of deficits in this area or that area had me submerged more deeply in my anxious thoughts about her future. My daughter, M, was content to spin and dance and laugh by herself, but I knew that part of her learning to communicate meant I needed to be present for her.

Maya Corneille imgWe hired a speech therapist and occupational therapist. But our days were still filled with her falling on the floor kicking and screaming when we couldn’t figure out what food she was asking for. Autism can look many ways, for us it looked like reading sight words at age 2 and spelling the days of the week at age 3. It also looked like screaming and fighting and crying whenever we were near fluorescent lights or in a room with people talking loudly. The times she scratched our faces, her face, or her teachers’ faces when we spoke loudly, she looked like a cat clawing its way out of a water filled tub. But to some of her teachers, especially the one who said, “maybe if you put her around more children of other different races,” M looked like a little Black girl existing in the teacher’s stereotype of Black children.

At 3AM, while trying to occupy my restless mind, I scrolled through my Facebook feed terrified by the articles that activist friends posted about how Black children are being suspended at a rate many times the rate of white children for minor infractions and as early as preschool. I feared her teachers wouldn’t understand that for her everyday noises were deafening and fluorescent lights were blinding, and that not responding is not the same as not knowing.

But most of all, I was terrified because everything I know about teaching a Black, Haitian, African girl to survive in this world has to do with teaching her to fearlessly use your voice.

Autism made me question if I was equipped to do this for her.

I described all of the appointments with doctors and evaluators and therapists in nauseating detail to my sister, a speech therapist at an autism clinic, hoping she would say, you can’t trust these doctors.

And at first, she did say this. But after she came to visit us and saw our challenges for herself, she said, “we’ll just have to use a different strategy to teach her to talk.” Even when she could hear the pull in my voice for her to say just ignore the doctors, she skillfully turned the conversation to get me to talk about the new thing M was doing.

Because a sisterhood of healing does not lie to make you feel better in the moment, a sisterhood of healing works to help you be better.

When my sister returned home she asked, “What’s M’s favorite food?” She sent me these Powerpoint slides that had pictures of M next to the words “I want” and pictures of her favorite foods with words by them that she could use to ask for food. And she sent us videos to show us how to use them. She must’ve heard my thought, this is way too complex for M, because my sister said,

“She can do this. You can do this. And don’t be surprised when soon she can just read the words.”

My sister reminded me of what I had already known but forgotten in the haze of hearing about deficits. She reminded me to expect brilliance and that today’s struggle does not define who you are and can become.

She kept sending us pictures and activities, ones that said “hi mommy” and “bye daddy,” and giving us suggestions of things to do, like putting a hammock in our house so that it didn’t take her three hours to fall asleep. On the day, I was trying to move M from her hammock to her bed, M shouted, “No mom, I don’t want that, okay.” I was so stunned I turned my body into a hammock and rocked her against my chest that moved up and down slowly for the first time in months.

Even though we had a lot of work ahead of us, M showed me that her powerful voice was in there waiting for us to help her find it. And I had a sisterhood full of women that would help us get there. And most importantly, one sister who did all of these amazing things without us asking.

Because a sisterhood of healing doesn’t wait to be asked, it comes when it hears the call in your spirit.

Just before the Christmas holiday we were able to sit down and talk with Jasmine Bowles, a thirty something mother of three darling girls, making her way in the world, one daring move at a time. It was our privilege to listen to her story as she shared her way of doing life on her terms, making sure that she doesn’t get caught up in the rhythm of survival but pushes herself to thrive, if for no other reason than for the three pair of adoring eyes fixed upon her each day. Please read on if you’d like to laugh, be encouraged, be inspired and get this Tuesday morning started off right!

 

OK, so to get started, tell us your name and a little about yourself.

My name is Jasmine L. Bowles. I’m 36 and I live in Durham, NC.

I’m very excited about living here. I’ve been trying to get here for nearly 10 years, or for at least as long as my sister has been here. I’m from Maryland. I was born in Delaware and I was raised all over the north— NY, DC, MD, Delaware. My mom was born and raised in Delaware so that was the place you could always go if you were in between something. When we lived there, we were in the lower part of Delaware where the cornfields and beaches were, so instead of going to the pool in the summertime, we would always go to the beach. I can remember when we were in New York, my sister was one, and my mom, sister and I would get up early and ride with my mom to the train station because she worked for the FBI at the time. We were in Deer Park, Long Island. Currently, I work for Frontline Solutions and I am a student. For Frontline I am on the project management support team. I am going back to school for Business Administration and Management. I first entered college in 1996/1998. However I started working at 14 and got a taste of regular money at the pay rate of someone with a degree, so, later, with family circumstances as they were I decided to put college on the back burner and then, vowed never to go back. But Durham has been so freeing that I am going back in February. Once I graduate I may start my own business.

Did you say your mom worked for the FBI?

She laughs, Yes! It seems so weird and funny. I’m not sure what she did there, but yes, she worked for the FBI.

What does a typical day in your life look like (your routine for the day)?

Wooooo Lord! I get up between 6:30 and 7:00 am which is actually late. I take a minute to get myself together, to pray, get a jumpstart for the day. This takes about ten minutes, then I get my girls up and start drop off; one gets on the bus, the other two get dropped off at school, and then I head to work, which is an outlet for me because it’s adult time. After a few hours I head out again to pick them up. I try to get all of my appointments done while the kids are at school. After everyone is home, we come in, talk, dinner, bath and bed, so I can have my sanity again. And that does not change.

Is there anything, anyone or any part of your day that dictates how you look, i.e. how you wear your hair, your style of dress, make-up or fresh face, etc?

I feel like I do. I am very adamant about not being a frumpy mom. I say that because I know that as moms you don’t worry about how you look, you worry about how your kids look and you are the only one who looks like you’ve been caught by a ball of fire. I always go “fresh face” unless I have an event. Otherwise I choose something that makes me feel good but is very comfortable, so I’m not necessarily walking around in stilettos all the time but I do have several pair. I also enjoy going to the salon to get my hair done because those kinds of things are very therapeutic, the conversations, coming out looking good, and feeling good. Oh and it’s good for my girls too, because since I’ve done that, they expect for me to look a certain way or they will call me out in a heartbeat!

Yes! I know what you mean. I sometimes find myself caught up in making sure I get things done, making sure I take care of my girls and my husband and I leave me as the last thing. There were many days that I looked like the fire ball victim. Ha!

We share a laugh here because she is not condemning or judging me. She is encouraging me, all of us, to see the value and joy of self care and count it as much a priority as we do taking care of others.

It’s so funny though because when I was married my husband could have a bad day and not look like it but when we have a bad day it looks like we have been through it! 

How would you define beauty?

I think beauty is kind of tied to your self worth. Through the years, I’ve come to think it’s tied to how you see yourself. So you see people with things in place on the outside; makeup, clothes, and all the pretty looks on the outside, but on the inside she could be very ugly. But when someone has accepted herself on the inside there is a wall that comes down and it’s just very beautiful.

You spoke earlier about the freedom you’ve found in your new home, Durham, NC and, in listening to you speak, I see beauty in this freedom. This change seems to be exposing a very beautiful side of you.

Being in North Carolina, for me, has been a freeing moment, where I finally get to feel and discover things, how I feel, or what I think about things, all the noise has been drowned out the longer I stay. It’s all been so freeing. Maryland is where I spent most of my life. Even if I moved, I moved somewhere else north. It was a safe place. There were great things happening there but it wasn’t the place that, I believe, God would have me stay. When I had an opportunity to come here, I fought it but then when it was really time, everything fell into place and I let go and everything was freeing. Also I wanted to be closer to my sister. And, for me, there is no struggle here. There is no race here.

So what would you say to women who want to move locations: How did you come to the place where you decided, “I’m going, but I’m not running away from anything.”?

I am known to be very strong, very hard, but I have cried more in NC than I ever did in the north! But here is what I would say, self evaluate and assess the common denominator in all situations. When I did this, I discovered that it was me. So I had to figure out why I wanted to leave because 9 times out of 10, to get the change you need you don’t have to go anywhere. I have had to process things by the example of my mom, family members, environment, school setting, but what is the real reason why I want to leave? So I had to self evaluate and assess because if you just take a step back you can get a better view of the whole picture. But a lot of times we don’t want to do that. I wouldn’t be where I am if I had brought all that stuff with me. Before, I was on “the plan.” I am 36, have three kids with my ex-husband, I was searching for the career I wanted, you know, the plan. But now I am here where I am finally saying, this is what I want to do, and get confirmation from God and then, it’s go time. People say you’ve gotta go to school, if you don’t find a husband between that time, you keep going to school, then you find a husband and have kids but then nobody says what happens after that! Then you become this frumpy old lady who looks caught on fire and nobody wants that. 

At this, we both crack up laughing!

I have one best friend since 7th grade and we have been able to walk through this stuff and see this stuff together. Women can be very complicated. There are things that can be miscommunicated all the time. So you have to make sure that you take a step, even if its a quick step, take a step back to think through how things happened and why they happened, what was your part and how do you move forward now.

Would you say that there is any relationship between beauty and power?

Yes! I would because knowing yourself and feeling beautiful is very empowering. And it may not necessarily be status–social or job- but if you’re in control of what’s happening, that is very powerful. When you interact with people, they can see that in you. They say, “she is so dynamic” or “it was a quick conversation but there is so much behind her eyes.” I think that it gets misconstrued but if it is handled the right way, they can come hand in hand. I really feel like right now, I am a Christian, go hard or go home, all day, but I feel like God has given me the power to control my life, under His guidance of course, but He is giving me free will to make good choices with my life and for the first time I feel very powerful. For the first time I can make decisions and that feels very empowering to me.

And does that make you feel beautiful? 

Yes. definitely. And so does my lipgloss. But it gets to the point where I don’t care what other people think. I just am finally able to settle down and accept myself. 

Do you think you’re beautiful?

Yes, and I really want for my girls to understand that they are as well and not materialistically. I know what that is to be looking for it in other things and people and not be able to see it in yourself. That’s really important to me with my girls. I try to tell them they are beautiful and why and it can’t be materialistic. For example, I tell them, you are beautiful because you are compassionate toward your sisters. I noticed the other day that Ahmadie asked me if I thought she was beautiful and why. So I told her and I asked her if I told her that enough and she said yes but I could tell that she needed to hear it more. I have to touch them and let them know from a woman to a little girl. I have written notes to myself and reminders in my phone to tell them and do it often each day because I can get caught up in my schedule and things going on that I miss my opportunity to tell them. 

What makes you beautiful?

I think that I am beautiful because I know what I want and I know who I am.  I am very simple and I think that simplicity is beauty.

Do you think your beauty empowers you? How?

It has created a confidence in me that has changed who I let in my life. It’s my life, and when I step back and look at myself, take time to assess, it builds my confidence and gives me power to accept what I want and reject what I don’t.

Has your beauty ever been challenged?  If so, how did you overcome those challenges?

Oh definitely. Everyone in my family looks very different. We are all the different colors of the crayon box. As a kid I was always that skinny, hairy, light skinned little girl. I mean I was odd; my feet were big, I was tall, I was just odd. But I had an uncle who would tell me all the time that I was beautiful. He would give detail, like your eyebrows, or your feet are getting big but in the long run that is going to be a beautiful feature. So I would have to close my eyes and accept the truth about how I looked but know that that didn’t make me ugly. Even now that I am gaining weight more than before I want to join a gym and women look at me and think why, and that can be very vicious. All the things that were crazy to me when I was younger, now I just think that being able to identify what those things are, well they are MINE, this is what God gave so I’m gonna love it! You don’t have to, but I do. It took a long time to feel that way but now that I do, I love it. 

What would say to your younger self to encourage her to embrace herself most fully and walk confidently in the world?

I would tell her: you don’t need anyone else to tell you how beautiful, powerful or strong you are. If I could have paired up with Christ then, I wouldn’t have needed so many other outside reinforcements to help me know it so that when others would say that I was beautiful, it would feel like confirmation and not new information because I would be sure of who God made me to be. I didn’t know any of that.

What advice would you give to moms?

We can’t take care of anybody else if we don’t take care of ourselves. If I don’t do these things for myself then what am I showing my children? They can’t see me paying the bills, they can’t see me paying the mortgage because they are kids and they don’t understand that. So I have to figure it out and know that everything is going to be okay. It’s not going to blow up if we don’t have dinner on the table at 6 or if we have to choose this job that has us at work all the time and someone else has to help us take care of our kids. Hey, everything is still going to be okay! We have to realize that so that things don’t feel so crazy all the time. I wish I had known all this time that everything is going to be okay and I’m not perfect and even that is okay. The hard decisions that we have to make for our well being, for our family, they don’t have to be an explosion in your mind! Everything is ok. You have to figure out what decisions you have to make, make them and remember that it is okay to ask for help. 

Well said, Ms. Bowles. Well said.

It’s August! Remember those goals you made back in January/February-ish? Some of us are soaring along, happily marking checkpoints as we go. To all of you I say, GO GIRL (with two snaps and a standing ovation!)!! Others of us are scratching our heads wondering where in the world the time has gone! If you belong to the latter crew, have no fear. It’s not too late for us to get it together and make some tracks. All we have to do is press refresh. Let’s not watch another day go by and miss the opportunity to work toward our desired end. Instead of spending time shaking our heads at ourselves, here are a couple of quick tips to get us back on track and give us a shot at getting some things done.

1. Re-evaluate your purpose.

Sometimes we get distracted and forget what we are all about and what it is that we are called to do. Some distractions are legitimate. These type of distractions often disguise themselves as responsibilities. Other distractions are enticing and seem to pull at us but they are often situations/issues/people/things sent to throw us off of our game. Think about what it is you are trying to do and why. Then, write it down and place it somewhere you can see it, daily. When you are clear about your purpose, you prioritize accordingly.

 

2. Re-visit your goals.

Break out that plan you made (or, in some cases, make a plan). Take a look at your goals. Do your goals reflect your purpose? Choose one goal on the list and start with 30 mins a day, taking small steps to accomplish that goal. Think you don’t have time? At the end of a seven day week you will have logged three and a half hours of work toward that goal. At the end of the month, 14 hours. As the months roll on, more time will be given to that goal and you may even see pockets in your schedule that are available for you to spend more time working toward the goal. The key here is to define the goal and make a start.

 

3. Refresh and GO!

Take a sabbath to get some rest, identify and rid yourself of unnecessary distractions, do some things you enjoy but most of all spend time alone encouraging yourself around your purpose. If you’re an extrovert, spend some time with people who know you and love you and tell them about your re-focusing. This will be great for your energy but it will also be great for accountability. Now that you feel good and are excited about what is ahead, go do the doggone thing!! No matter how many starts you have to make, make them until they lead you to a successful finish.

 

“You don’t need to go back in time to be awesome; you just have to start right now. Regretting that you didn’t start earlier is a great distraction from moving on your dream today, and the reality is that today is earlier than tomorrow.” -Jon Acuff, Start

 

Photo Credit: Yoga Baby Mama

StyleBlazer has a video series on YouTube called How I Made It. It features women of color who are making things happen in the fashion and beauty industry around the world. The series has been out for some time now, so it’s likely that many of you have probably already checked it out. Still, the content and excellence of the film series as well as the invaluable advice shared in the stories of the women before the camera, is timeless. This is how I met Felita Harris, the Senior Vice President of Global Sales at Donna Karan. Yep. If you don’t already, get to know her. And pop over to Style Blazer later for all that’s hot and happening in fashion and beauty!

 

 

 

Photo and Video Credit: Style Blazer Channel on YouTube

A few years ago I was able to sit in an informal setting and listen to a woman with a brilliant mind lay out her thoughts in a rhythm that moved me into higher thinking. It was an amazing time of being stretched, enlightened, and encouraged on Black feminist thought and its relevance and prevalence not only in my life and work and but in the world at large. Since that time she has remained one of my most favorite professors, a woman I highly regard and a true gift. Last month I was able to spend an evening chatting with her and it was such a sweet time. I listened to her communicate her thoughts and when the conversation was finished I felt understood, seen, hopeful, and just happy. Please, get a cup of chai, green, mint or whatever tea you like, make yourself comfortable and sit a spell with us to enjoy a day in the life with Dr. Williams.

Okay, Dr. B, let’s get into it! Tell us a little about yourself starting with your full name, profession, current location and your back story (where are you from, coming of age memories, etc…).

Ok, well, my name is Bianca C. Williams. I live in Denver, Colorado and I work in Boulder, Colorado which is about 45 minutes to an hour away from Denver. I am an Assistant Professor of Africana Studies, but I am a trained cultural anthropologist and this is very important to me as this is my first love.

I’m originally from the Bronx. I grew up in Orlando, Florida and I’ve spent quite a bit of time in North Carolina for undergrad and grad school. The more time I spend in Colorado the more I learn how much of an “east coast girl” I really am! My family is Caribbean, from Jamaica. I identify as both African American and Jamaican. If I had to tell you about a coming of age memory for me, it would be learning what it meant to be African American, while having a family that is Jamaican and having connections to Jamaica. My understanding of being American was complex; there were different standards of beauty, how to be a woman, how to be Black in Jamaica and the US, so learning all of what that meant in two different cultures really affected me and the work I currently do. My grandmother was the center of our Jamaicaness; she’s the one who kept us connected. I became more personally connected to Jamaica through my research. The year I started my research my grandma died and, in that, I feel that she kind of passed the torch on to me.

What does a typical day in your life look like (your routine for the day)?

LOL!

You know, everyone laughs when I ask that question!

I don’t know that there is a typical day! Well, ok, so I’m definitely a late morning person. Those who know me personally or who have had to work with me know that I am no good until after 10:30 am. Because I am a night owl I do my best writing and thinking at night. I’m typically not in bed until around two o’clock am.

Once I get up in the morning though I take some time for prayer, reading my bible, and meditation so that I can talk to and listen to God and then, hopefully, spend time doing some yoga moves. Then once I leave the house, it’s a full day of meetings with colleagues and students and in the midst of that I teach two courses. Right now, I’m teaching Black Women, Popular Culture and the Pursuit of Happiness and Ethnography of American Blacknesses. After I get home, I try to get in about thirty minutes to an hour of writing.

Okay now, I know that you’ve been very busy writing a book and are now close to finishing, so why is it that you only take thirty minutes to an hour to write each day? Why not more?

(She sighs the sigh that comes with a loaded grin and resolved chuckle.) Oh, Pamela. That’s the very thing my advisor wants to know, lol! I think that I haven’t made writing my first priority so that’s why it’s getting done at the end of the day not the beginning and I am trying to shake that. However, even more practically, my day is so busy because, contrary to popular belief, being a professor is not just one job. I have to build programs, which includes developing curriculum, raising funds, I have to brand myself as a researcher and give talks promoting my work. Then there’s the actual teaching which involves being in the classroom, yes, but also conducting and preparing research and publishing that research. And, despite advice not to spend so much time doing this as it will not necessarily work towards my ability to receive tenure, I contribute to my community because it is important to me that the work I do has real life application. So, I need for what I do to mean something to Black women in the world. Soooo, after all of this, there is really little time left to write but I try, everyday to write for at least thirty minutes to an hour.

Is there anything, anyone or any part of your day that dictates how you look, i.e. how you wear your hair, your style of dress, make-up or fresh face, etc?

Oh wow. Umm I definitely grew up as a jeans and t-shirt type of girl. Growing up I paid no attention to society’s definition of beauty. I was over thirty when I started wearing make up, much to my mom’s chagrin, and I didn’t start carrying a purse until college. I was a bookbag, jeans, sneakers type of girl. As I got older I became more aware of what society thought was beautiful and this impacts how I present myself to the world, particularly in the classroom. So when I go in the classroom I wanna feel strong and confident and sometimes that means wearing makeup–which I have noticed I do feel more courageous when I have on make up. So, sometimes my classes, or being at the university, will require that. I think growing up as a Black girl in the US made me aware that being beautiful was to have long blonde hair, not thick curly hair like mine. There weren’t many affirmative Black standards of beauty around. I just felt like it was too much work to modify myself to fit what everyone else thought was beautiful. Now as I dress I am aware of what people think beauty should look like and I try to find my own definition of beauty somewhere around that.

As it concerns my hair and how I wear it, I became natural two years ago and that has been quite the journey in learning what my hair wants to do– sometimes I fight it to do what I want it to, and sometimes I let it free to do what it wants to do! Depending on how my hair feels can affect how I express beauty that day.

How would you define beauty?

I would define beauty as confidence and courage. That is what comprises beauty.

Would you say that there is any relationship between beauty and power?

Yes. I think the way that I define beauty, as confidence and courage, both require deep awareness and love of self and that can make you feel empowered. So if one does not know who they are and does not love who they are, that can make you feel helpless and powerless. And I think part of the reason why the work that organizations like The Beautiful Project do is important, is because the things you see around you in the world such as music, film, advertisements, they help you figure out who you are and who you are not, what you are and what you are not. So it’s important for people to see some reflection of themselves in the world to help them build confidence.

Do you think you’re beautiful?

Most definitely. (She giggles.) I think like everyone else, particularly women, you have days you don’t feel your best, most confident, most courageous self. But now that I am in my thirties, something about entering my thirties made me feel more courageous about expressing who I am in the world. In my thirties, more days than not, I have come to feel more beautiful. I think, generally speaking, in the teens and twenties, as a woman in the US at least, you spend so much time trying to figure out who you are in relation to who everyone expects you to be and that can feel tough and confusing. It can make you feel anxious about defining who you are in opposition to who everyone else wants you to be and can be a barrier to you expressing that confidence. In your 30s you’ve been here long enough so that if your definitions of beauty don’t align with others, you’re ok and you know that everyone else will be ok. It takes some time to gain that small piece of wisdom.

What makes you beautiful?

Oh wow. I think the first thing that comes to mind when I think about my beauty is my smile. I know that my smile can light up a room and draw people in. I know that my eyes have a deep sense of knowing. I am very interested in people’s stories, where they come from, what’s important to them and my eyes can look like they are listening for that deeper sense of meaning. I think, for me, it’s easier to talk about when I feel beautiful. I feel beautiful when I sit under the sun and soak up the heat. When I am around my really close girlfriends and my sister, I feel so beautiful. There is something about love and acceptance of self and total support that can make you feel really beautiful. Some of my best moments and memories of my beauty are with my close friends and my sister.

Wow. That was just so good for me to hear you speak about yourself that way. Typically women find it really difficult to say what they like about themselves; we become very bashful and conservative when we have to speak well of ourselves. But it was really encouraging to hear you say what’s good about you and know it, own it, and love it, proudly.

That “beauty as boldness and courage” is something that women grow into. In my twenties I would not have said any of that, lol!

Do you think your beauty empowers you?

I think my sense of self, the way I am constantly trying to grow in being confident and courageous, it empowers me to share my story with others. So me and Tami Navarro, who I know that you have interviewed here, have been writing a lot lately about the strength and power of being radically honest. Beauty empowers me to be honest about my strengths but also my weaknesses and to share it with other people to let other people know, particularly Black girls and women, that we all struggle with our sense of self and not feeling beautiful. Sometimes the beauty is knowing that others are in the same struggle with you. So beauty empowers me to tell my story and my hope is that in sharing my story the world is being transformed for the better.

Mmmmmm…beauty as courage to be radically honest to be both strong and weak. Wow. That’s powerful. When you say, “share my story” what pieces of your life are you referring to?

My story in particular, the parts that are important to share, are the struggles I had in becoming a scholar. Going to undergrad and grad school as a Black woman. That narrative is important to share. Some people become discouraged when they encounter difficulty when trying to become a professor. There is a silence and a stigma there. I think it’s important to speak about the challenges of being emotionally well, to talk publicly about the struggle of anxiety. It is silenced throughout US culture but especially in Black communities. The silence many times is part of what traumatizes people.

Has your beauty ever been challenged? If so, how did you overcome those challenges?

Wow. Again I refer to the tomboy I was growing up. My sister and I have an AWESOME relationship but, as in many families and in school , growing up there is one sibling who is held up as the aesthetically pleasing or beautiful one and the other, the bookworm or intellectual one. My sister was the pretty one and I was the smart one. That’s how people set us up in relation to one another, but it’s not true. I have my own beauty and my sister is intelligent. But that binary messed with my self-esteem and my confidence and I know from my sister’s stories that it also messed with her confidence and self-esteem. So if I have to think back to a moment when my beauty was challenged it comes from that. In families or communities we have a habit of placing people in boxes instead of celebrating them in their diversity. Us sharing our stories with each other led my sister and I to have an awesome relationship. We overcame our insecurities through honesty. In the past, when people called her pretty and me smart we were silent. And though it made us feel “a way” we didn’t talk about it. So overcoming meant honesty and sharing those stories and together that helped us overcome challenges that resulted from that time.

What would say to your younger self to encourage her to embrace herself most fully and walk confidently in the world?

I would tell her (I even tell myself this still now) that every single person, no matter who they are, what race, no matter how much money they have, everyone has their struggles and those struggles are individual to each person. Most people are trying to find out who they are. Some find it at 12 years old others at 83. But finding self is the journey. It is the point of life. We shouldn’t focus so much on presenting a perfect self but instead on enjoying the journey of self-discovery. Everything will be fine. Everything will be as God intended. We just have to be okay with the good parts and the tough parts.

 

The first in our series titled A Day in the Life where we take a look at everyday icons; phenomenal women living boldly and purposefully among us, is Dr. Tami Navarro (pictured above farthest left, in white).  We are so excited to introduce her to you not only as our friend and our sister but also as a regular guest blogger here on The Lens.

A quick look at her bio details that she holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Duke University. Her research interests include Caribbean Studies, Gender and Labor, Development, Identity Formation, Globalization/Transnationalism, Capital, Neoliberalism, Race/Racialization and Ethnicity. She is the recipient of funding from the Mellon Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the American Anthropological Association, and the Ford Foundation. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University.

Baaaaad Chick.  Uh huh. Keep reading for our very enlightening, very encouraging conversation.

-Dr. Tami, can you tell us a little about yourself, i.e. where you’re from, what’s your background?

I’m from St. Croix. I grew up there. It’s important to who I am personally and professionally. I have a PhD in cultural anthropology, and most of my work centers around cultural and economic issues that are happening in St. Croix. My mom is white, she’s German actually, so I’m a mixed race girl. Since I grew up in the Caribbean, there was a spectrum of Brown and Blackness, it was amazing. I didn’t feel unattractive or not beautiful. I didn’t get the messages that Black girls in America often get. Now, I have a husband who is Indian, mom, white, so when I look at my daughter she looks Indian and I wonder how she will choose to identify herself . . . how will those messages affect her? She may say, “I don’t look Black. I don’t have to claim all the things that come with being black . . . and then again I don’t get to claim those things.”  Not concerned but curious, can’t control it but I am  interested to see how she identifies.

-What does a typical day in your life look like (your routine for the day)?

LOL my life is crazy! Right now I am between academic appointments but I am a visiting scholar at Columbia this year, so often I get up, drop off my daughter and, if I’m lucky, I go to the gym. Mostly I go to the house to work on some things there, then work on papers, reading, and then it’s afternoon and time to get the little one. Then I’m home with her, making dinner, waiting on hubby.

When I am teaching, I drop her off, race to campus, race to get her, then back home. I love the balance of being able to work on campus, sharing with my students, and also still have time to enjoy my family. My students are great. I love being a younger professor. Some of the courses I teach are Caribbean Societies, a Methodology course, Methods in Cultural Anthropology, Globilization and Race.

What is your favorite course to teach?

My favorite course to teach? Hmmm . . . I love my Caribbean Societies course because it is tailored to junior students, that is freshmen and sophomores, so they are really excited about the information as it is new to them. We watch many films, I have friends and colleagues come and give talks.  We’ve also experienced a drumming performance,  It’s just a really great class and gives me an opportunity to be open in my instruction.

Is there anything, anyone or any part of your day that dictates how you look, i.e. how you wear your hair, your style of dress, make-up or fresh face, etc?

Mmmm, absolutely. You know, I’ve been thinking on this a great deal lately. I started a blog for women in the academy, who are professors, about their clothes, because its such a weighted thing. I have big hair and on a regular day, in the classroom, I tend to wear it up or back. I dress incredibly conservatively when I’m in the classroom. In general I’m not flashy but I have a little personal style, however in the classroom I am pretty straight laced, to get the respect and authority that, unfortunately, I don’t get automatically due to my age and race. I put on what they expect the professor to look like. I tone it down especially in the beginning. That’s the last post I wrote actually because I think I’m still grappling with what that means. I don’t think its turning off a part of myself or selling out. I think that in order to have the classroom go the way I want it to go, I have to do that. Its a choice. As the year progresses, it changes. I consciously have to be more neutral because my body and its package is not neutral so I have to counter that.  And I’ve come to this from my experiences because at first I was like, “This is who I am and I am going to go as I am” but for me, this is who I am, this is another part of myself, and I want you to see that clearly before I show you the other part of myself. I felt that for me to try to force that point right from the beginning was counterproductive.

-How would you define beauty?

Confidence. And capability. To see a woman who is capable, who knows that she knows what she’s doing. You can have make-up and clothes, but if you don’t have that sense that says, “I know my place in the world, I know what I’m doing” it doesn’t matter.

-Would you say that there is relationship between beauty and power?

Oh yeah! Absolutely. I think that being powerful is being beautiful. There’s something very attractive about this. Even from hip hop we it portrayed that you can be physically unattractive but there’s something about that swaager, there’s something really attractive about that. There’s something about being competent and having a confidence about who you are.

-Do you think you’re beautiful?

Sure!!! My husband makes me feel beautiful, but especially as a mom, I have a level of human beauty, but its important for a woman who has a lot of responsibility in her life, when I get those few moments to myself, and can take the time to look how I want, then I really feel like I show it, I manifest the beauty that’s always been there, embodying what’s already true.

-What makes you beautiful?

Oh wow! That’s a tough one! I don’t know!

-Do you think your beauty empowers you?

I do. I think when I do take that time to show the beauty that’s always there, I do feel more powerful. I feel more confident, a more brightly shining version of myself, and people treat you differently too; more respect.

-Has your beauty ever been challenged? If so, how did you overcome those challenges?

I have lighter skin and curly hair and in this country to be that is to be attractive. I don’t know if the word for what I’ve experienced is “challenge.” My package is stereotypically good, attractive but my group of friends and I try to challenge that. We are supportive of each other, some of them are fly and they don’t look like what you’re “supposed” to look like. But being who we are and true to ourselves, that opens up a whole new set of options for what it means to be beautiful.

I love that. Do you have an example of this?

In December Jamaica, me and friend were in NY and it was amazing to be around them and we are already a spectrum of skin tones. So we were going to hear bell hooks at the New School. We got there about 45 minutes before it was time for the event to begin, but as we approached the line we were greeted by ten city blocks and an overwhelming amount of beautiful Black and Brown people. It was so stunning. We just kind of stopped and were just in awe of the scene. We were so blessed to see it, it was ten city blocks, it was humbling. So we sat down and for about 20 minutes just took it in. It was amazing to see this broad spectrum of Black beauty. We didn’t get in to hear the talk but I felt like I got something because I saw that.

-What would say to your younger self to encourage her to embrace herself most fully and walk confidently in the world?

I would tell her, (it’s funny I’m thinking of my daughter when I think of my younger self) don’t worry so much because you already are and you already have everything you’re gonna need. So your whole job is to share that with the world. You already have it. So your job is to let it out.

 

Boom.  Let it out.  The world is waiting.

Give Dr. Tami a shout out @thebeautifulprj and let her know what you liked about her interview!  Look for her post this Thursday!