Why Representation Matters

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17:  (L-R) Bronze medalist Kristi Castlin, gold medalist Brianna Rollins and silver medalist Nia Ali of the United States celebrate with American flags after the Women's 100m Hurdles Final on Day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

As the 2016 Summer Olympics come to a close, I can’t help but feel like this has been the Blackest Olympics yet. No, I don’t have stats to prove this, but it just feels right.

From Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Simone Manuel taking gold in their respective sports to Michelle Carter making shot put history and Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin forming the first US women’s sweep in 100-meter hurdles, this year’s Olympics have been full of #BlackGirlMagic. And I couldn’t be more excited!

Four years ago, I wrote about why Gabby Douglas is a BFD. As the first
Black woman to earn the all-around gymnastics competition, she inspired a whole new generation of little Black girls to go after their dreams, whether it was gymnastics, world records or personal bests. Sure, when I was growing up, there was Dominique Dawes, but there’s been a bit of a drought between her reign and Gabby’s.

Now there are TWO Black girls on the U.S. women’s team, a Hispanic girl AND a Jewish girl. To paraphrase a certain presidential candidate, “this is HUGE!” While watching the team compete, I told my husband this is a big deal for Black girls everywhere.

There’s a saying that “you can’t be what you don’t see.” And while some people have the gumption to become the first Black/woman [insert occupation/record here], there are some who need to see it to believe it.

I have a Facebook friend whose daughter, also named Simone, is OBSESSED with Simone Biles. My friend posted a video of her daughter, a young Black girl, prancing around in her leotard while the elder Simone was doing her thing on the TV in the background. I cried.

This is why representation is so important. It opens doors and minds to possibilities. Here’s a little girl who sees herself reflected in her favorite sport and who knows that she can someday become the best gymnast in the world.

Same for the little Black girls watching Simone Manuel dominate the 100-meter and become the first Black woman to earn a gold medal in an individual swimming event, which is perhaps even more significant because of the historic racism Black people have faced when it comes to public swimming areas. Don’t believe me? Check out this article about the time a hotel drained an ENTIRE pool because actress Dorothy Dandridge dipped ONE toe in. This is why representation matters.

And I bet there are people who didn’t even know Black women competed in shot put (myself included). Michelle Carter represents for not only Black women, but full-figured women. And looks damn good doing so, might I add. I mean, do you really want to get on a shot putter’s bad side? I didn’t think so.

And last, but certainly not least, the image of Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin up on that podium with their medals while the national anthem played? Priceless. Pure #BlackGirlMagic.

I can only imagine the number of young Black girls inspired by these athletes and I can’t wait to see them go after their own gold medals someday. I’ll be cheering them on, too. Because until there’s a day when there’s no longer a first Black or woman whatever, representation will ALWAYS matter.

A Friendly Reminder to Stay In Your Lane

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09:  Michael Phelps (L) of the United States leads Chad le Clos of South Africa in the Men's 200m Butterfly Final on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 610210337 ORIG FILE ID: 587854204

As a Maryland girl through and through, I’ve been rooting for Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, since pretty much forever.

Earlier this week, Phelps was determined to beat Chad Le Clos of South Africa in the men’s 200m butterfly final and, as a surprise to virtually no one, he did and earned his 20th gold medal. I was beaming and also wondering if he secretly wants to yell “O” during the national anthem, a tribute to our beloved Baltimore Orioles and a time-honored Maryland tradition.

The next day, a picture surfaced of Le Clos turning to look at Phelps during the race while Phelps was looking straight ahead. The lesson here for all  of us, Olympians and mere humans alike?

Stay in your own lane. Literally.

Did glancing over at Phelps cause Le Clos to lose the race? The world may never know, but it certainly didn’t help. When you’re focused on your own lane, you’re not worrying about everyone else. You’re essentially competing against yourself, your personal best. And that, honestly, is the way it should be.

But I can admit, I’ve often fallen victim to doing the same as Le Clos, especially when it comes to blogging. She has a million followers, she’s making a six-figure income, she’s getting all these endorsements AND a book deal…what about me?!

What about you, boo?

As my mom constantly told me growing up, “what’s meant for you, nobody can take away.” And, to be perfectly honest, the blogging about blogging, the how-to-make-money-off-your-blog posts? That’s never been me, will never be me, and that’s okay.

But despite writing about social media comparison over and over, sometimes I can’t help myself and I don’t practice what I preach. And then I scold myself because I know better, but I do it anyway.

I fangirl over bloggers and writers I love in the same way normal people idolize Beyonce (don’t believe me? Check out this post where I met Awesomely Luvvie and Afrobella IRL). But Queen Bey isn’t real. I mean, she is, but she isn’t. She’s not attainable. Meanwhile, my blogger and journalist girl crushes are actual human beings.

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with Elaine Welteroth, the editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue. Why? Well, she pretty much has my dream job. Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve wanted to be EIC of a teen mag and Elaine and I have a few similarities: we’re both Black (she’s biracial), we both worked for the same magazine (albeit at different times) and we’re both 29 (okay, I turn 29 in two months). But still: I am Elaine. Elaine is me. She’s a constant reminder of what could have been had I not called it quits in journalism. Could I be EIC of Teen Vogue if I’d stayed the course? We’ll never know. But sometimes, late at night when the rest of the world is sleeping, I do wonder. What if?

On the surface, I appear to be a confident and successful women with a great career, a wonderful husband and a pretty awesome life. All of those are true. But I’m also human and I sometimes deal with the same fears, doubts and insecurities as everyone else: Do I matter? Am I good enough? Well I ever accomplish anything great?

I am queen of the one-woman pity parties (bless my husband and fellow blogger friends for not indulging me, but trying to talk some sense into me). Like my friend Melissa Kimble, founder of #blkcreatives and social media whiz extraordinaire. After a particularly pathetic pity party (try saying that 10 times fast), she texted me perhaps the best pep talk ever, so much so I took a screenshot to save for those very moments when I’m feeling down on myself.

The line that struck me the most was “You can only get to your next level by being you, not anyone else.” Yes, I’m aware this is basically what my mom has been telling me all along, but it’s different when it comes from your peers. Don’t judge me.

That same day, I stumbled across a speech by Oprah at this year’s Essence Fest. Now, I don’t claim to be Mama O’s biggest fan, but this right here? Insert ALL the praise hand emojis.

“You don’t get what you wish for, you don’t get what you hope for. You get what you believe. So what is it you believe to be God’s dream for you?”

What is God’s dream for me? I’m still not really sure. But I know I won’t get there by constantly comparing myself to other people. I’m a gifted writer and my superpower is empowering women through storytelling. That is my lane. And I’m sticking to it.

(Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images) 

How 2016 Became My Blackest Year Yet

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You wouldn’t know it judging by my recent #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackGirlMagic Facebook posts and tweets, but there was a time not so long ago that I was ashamed of being Black.

I’ll spare you the details, but growing up, I’d pray to God to make me White so I could be as beautiful as the skinny White pop stars who graced the covers of the teen magazines I read religiously. Obviously, you can see that didn’t happen and I couldn’t be happier.

One of my college friends has noted that I’ve gotten sassier in my older, but it’s probably because I’m more “woke,” which for those of you who don’t know has been defined by Dictionary.com as being “actively aware of systemic injustices and prejudices, especially those related to civil and human rights.”

I’ve always been aware of these injustices, but have only recently started to be as vocal about them on this blog and my various social media platforms. Why? Because I have a platform and I’m going to use it, dammit.

The Blackest Black History Month Ever

It all started, coincidentally, in February, which one of my favorite bloggers, Awesomely Luvvie, referred to as “the Blackest Black History Month ever.”

First, Queen Bey dropped “Formation” aka the official Black Girl anthem out of NOWHERE. And White America realized for the first time that Beyonce is, in fact, Black. Lest anyone get confused by her light complexion and honey-blonde weaves, she let the world know “My daddy Alabama. Mama Louisiana. You mix that Negro with the Creole, make a Texas bama.”

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I kid you not, I probably watched that video about 10 times on repeat when it came out. The cinematography alone was #Flawless (not to mention the wardrobe, the hairstyles and the choreography). From the opening scene with Beyonce atop a submerged police cruiser to the image of a young Black boy dancing in front of a row of police officers who surrendered to him in a hoodie no less with the phrase “Stop Shooting Us” in the background, “Formation” was LIT. And to make matters even better, Beyonce performed “Formation” live at the Super Bowl the very next day. Bow down.

Then Kendrick Lamar came through the Grammys and brought the house down with a political statement about incarceration and Black men.

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On Facebook, one of my White friends called his performance “scary.” Why? Because there’s a free Black man speaking out on a national platform about the injustices he faces on a routine basis because of the color of his skin?? I respect Kendrick because, unlike a lot of artists, he uses his platform to speak out on important issues and doesn’t shy away from controversy.

And then, there were the Obamas celebrating what was most likely the Blackest Black History Month that the White House had ever seen, complete with an HBCU marching band (shout-out to my sister’s alma mater, Morgan State University!), step team and EVERYTHING! It was glorious.

Almost as glorious as this…

 

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Anywho, these epic moments set us up for what Luvvie refers to as the Blackest year on record. Please refer to the list below.

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In April, Beyonce surprised us all with the feature premiere of her second visiual album, Lemonade, on HBO. And it was every bit of #BlackGirlMagic you’d expect it to be.

Despite claims of Jay Z cheating (did or didn’t he?) and speculation regarding the identity of “Becky with the good hair,” Lemonade was an ode to Black women everywhere.

And that was just the beginning…

See something, say something

In my personal life, I noticed a lack of diversity on two different panels within months of each other and spoke out about them. I just don’t understand how, in 2016, in Chicago of all places, there’s a blatant lack of diversity on panels about media.

Editorial board panel representing most of the mainstream media outlets in Chicago? Old, White men.

Women in media panel? Funny how it was only straight, White women and I know this because I’m Facebook friends with all of them.

Once upon a time, I would have just let it go and chalked it up to ignorance on behalf o the organizers. But 2016 L’Oreal was all “NOPE.” It’s like the TSA security message: when I see something, I say something. As a result, I now sit on committees for both of those organizations because it’s hard to have a voice at the table when you don’t have a seat at the table. Not invited? Invite yourself.

This summer, my high school (an all-girls mostly all-White Catholic high school, mind you) asked me to change the wording in my personal essay (ironically about finding my voice) in the alumnae magazine from “skinny White pop stars” to “unrealistic pop stars” and “feminist” to “strong feminine leader.” I was NOT having it, so I fought back (politely, of course, because politics).

Listen, I get that your demographic and donors may be “uncomfortable” with race, but I’m not going to censor myself to make them feel better about themselves. It’s not that that pop starts I admired were unrealistic (Beyonce is unrealistic, but at least we’re both Black), it’s that the fact that they were White and I did not see myself reflected in mainstream media. Representation matters, y’all. Also, feminism is not a dirty word. Long story short, they ended up keeping the original wording. #SmallVictories

Truth is, I’m not the timid, token Black girl I used to be. I have opinions and I have a voice and I’m willing to use it to fight for what I believe in.

Just because we’re magic, doesn’t mean we’re not real

Then there was the BET Awards in June. I’d mostly tuned in to see BET do justice with a proper Prince tribute after the Billboard Awards failed miserably. But when the show opened with Beyonce and Kendrick performing “Freedom,” I knew this year’s show was going to be different.

Later in the show, Greys Anatomy actor and activist Jesse Williams delivered an EPIC speech after accepting the Humanitarian Award. You can read his full speech here, or check out the video below:

And then came July and the back-to-back murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

#BlackLivesMatter

Admittedly, I used to shy away from political or polarizing social media posts in the past so as not to “offend” anyone and/or to “protect” my brand (it’s fun, it’s positive, etc.). And I didn’t want to perpetuate the stereotype of the “angry Black woman.” But I was angry. Enough was enough, I could not and would not remain silent any longer. And if I lost a few friends or readers in the process? Then so be it.

When men who look like my dad, my husband, my uncles, my cousins and my friends are being slaughtered on the streets, it’s tragic, it’s inexcusable, it’s saying out loud for everyone to hear that Black lives don’t matter.

Most of the White people on my timeline were up in arms about the tragedies in Paris and Orlando, but when Black men are being gunned down on American soil? Silence. And we all know silence speaks volumes.

Interestingly enough, some of them had found their voices AFTER the Dallas officers were killed, which for the record is also a tragedy, but said NOTHING about the Black deaths that preceded theirs. All lives matter, right?

To stand idly by while your friends are hurting, that’s the epitome of White privilege.

And to those who did speak up and speak out, thank you. Thank you for seeing us, our pain and the injustice.

As a writer, all I have are my words. All I have is my voice and I’ll be damned if I allow it to be silenced. And to all my bloggers, writers and influencers out there, I encourage you to use your platform and your influence for good. For change. For justice.

Don’t let the nice-girl demeanor, college education, proper English, condo in Lincoln Park and relaxed hair fool you. As the above pin states, “I am VERY Black.” And if you’ve got a problem with that, I ain’t sorry.

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Feature photo credit: CreateHER Stock

Am I Enough?

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This post was adapted from my talk at the 2016 Glappitnova Festival.

Recently, I’ve been taking a page out of Shonda Rhimes’ best-selling memoir, Year of Yes. For those of you who don’t know, Rhimes is the mastermind behind Shondaland aka TGIT aka the holy trifecta of prime-time television known as Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. The premise of her memoir is essentially saying yes to things that scare the shit out of you, pardon my French.

Which is how I ended up here, speaking at Glappitnova. A friend and former coworker (shout-out to Felicia Matthews) asked me if I’d like to participate and, before I had the chance to talk myself out of it, I said yes. Not really knowing what was involved or much about the event itself. But I said yes. And, shortly thereafter, panic started to set in. What am I going to talk about? What if they don’t like me? What if I’m not cool enough?

Enough. What a loaded word. Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Am I thin enough? Chances are we’ve asked ourselves some version of these questions at some point in our lives.

For me, it started with “Am I Black enough?”

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself since middle school when my classmates called me an “Oreo,” code for “Black on the outside and White on the inside.” My classmates, who were mostly Black, accused me of being bougie, talking White and acting White.

Yes, I’d grown up in a predominately White suburb 45 minutes outside of Baltimore. Yes, I spoke “proper English.” And yes, I preferred Britney to Biggie and Justin Timberlake to Tupac. But did this somehow make me less Black?

My Black girl imposter syndrome continued into adulthood when I was the digital content editor for JET magazine aka one of the oldest Black-owned publications in the country. While my boss and the editor-in-chief (along with the majority of the women on staff) wore natural hair, I chose (and still choose) to wear a relaxer. Does this somehow make me less Black?

The answer, despite what many proponents of #TeamNatural, will have you believe is “no.” Living in the ‘burbs, wearing a relaxer and listening to so-called White music does not make me any less Black nor does it mean I hate myself. I am Black enough.

Fast forward to two years ago when I was transitioning from my career as a journalist to a career in nonprofits and the top question plaguing me was “Am I good enough?”

Yes, I’d won awards as a journalist and yes, I had a good thing going working for one of the most respected Black magazines in the nation. But I was burnt out and worn it. I’d become desensitized to story after story of police brutality and I knew I had to get out before it got the best of me.

But would I make it? Could I successfully transition into another career after seven years as a journalist? I’d never worked for a nonprofit before. Was I good enough?

The answer was and still is yes. I took a leap of faith and pursued my passion with a purpose. And I’m so glad I did. All I’ve ever wanted to do was write and help young women. And I’m fortunate I get to do this every day at Girl Scouts. It truly is a blessing.

It wasn’t easy. But it was worth it. And I learned that I am good enough.

So now, a year into working my “dream job” and the biggest question I face is “am I enough?” As I am? In this moment? Right here, right now?

It’s the question that comes to mind when I’m asked to participate in a Twitter chat or on a panel or an event such as this. What do I have to offer?

I don’t have a million followers on social media. I don’t get big brand name sponsorships on my blog. I’m not making six-figures from speaking engagements. Am I enough?

It means something different to everyone. If we’re being candid, for me it means making Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list. It means being director of media relations or communications for a nonprofit that benefits girls. Or perhaps maybe even accomplishing my lifelong dream of becoming editor-in-chief of a teen magazine.

But if I’m constantly hoping and praying for “the next big thing” or the next stage of my life, then I’m not living my best life now. I’m not living up to my potential. I’m taking what I have now for granted. The truth is I am enough. As I am. Right here, right now. In this moment. And every day.

Not to get all Oprah on you, but you are enough and you are enough and you are enough. We’re all enough. As we are. Right here, right now.

There’s no one else on the planet like you or like me. And that is our gift. That’s what makes you “you.” Don’t lose sight of that. Don’t ever think you’re not enough. Because you are. We all are.

Why I’m Choosing My Career Over Motherhood … For Now

Createherstock Happy New Year Pack 4

Back in college, I had my life planned out… or so I thought. Graduate and get a kick-ass magazine editor job and move to New York City at 20. Get married to the love of my life at 23. Have my first kid at 25, second kid at 27, and third kid at 29 so I could have all my kids before I turned 30 and be a “cool, hip mom.”

Well, I never got that hot-shot editor job in New York and I didn’t get married until 27. As soon as we said, “I do,” it seemed like everyone—from well meaning family members to co-workers—was inquiring as to the status of my uterus. Spoiler alert: it’s currently unoccupied and I plan to keep it that way for a little while longer.

Even though my husband and I originally discussed starting to “try” when I turn 30, I’ve had a change of heart. Back then, 30 seemed like a long way away. Now that it’s basically staring me in the face (I turn the big 3-0 next year), I’m essentially freaking the [bleep] out.

There’s so much we want to do just the two of us before we have kids—travel to Europe, vacation in Hawaii, buy a house—but there’d be so little time if we were to adhere to our original plan. Plus, there’s the whole matter of moving. We currently live in Chicago and want to be closer to family when we start our own family because that’s how we were raised and, quite frankly, the cost of living here is too dang high. So moving back East would require a) finding new jobs, b) saving for a home, and c) finding said home. All within a calendar year. Yeah, that’s not happening anytime soon.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t want it to happen soon. Recently, I had to have a heart-to-heart with my hubby and tell him I’m not ready. Simple as that. And then there are #CareerGoals I want to accomplish before I add “mom” to my list of titles.

It’s not just that I want to obtain a director-level position before we have kids—I want the higher salary that comes along with it so I can make more money when I’m on maternity leave. Did you know the United States is last among developed countries when it comes to paid maternity leave? (Psst… the only other country that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave is Papua New Guinea, according to a recent Forbes article.) And even if you’re lucky enough to work for a company that has paid maternity leave, it’s most likely only partial—unless you live in San Francisco, which became the first U.S. city to mandate fully paid maternity leave. Thus, the higher my salary, the more I’ll earn during maternity leave.

But there’s part of me that’s terrified of waiting too long to have kids. Everyone knows 35 is considered “advanced maternal age” and the older you get, the riskier the pregnancy could be. I don’t want to become so career-obsessed that I miss out on my prime baby-making years. And I don’t know if it’s more prevalent or people are just talking about it more, but infertility seems to be everywhere. What if I get to 35 and it’s too late?

Read the full post at MaterMea.com.

(Photo credit: CreateHER Stock)