I was featured by Atlanta Daybook!

“When I write a review, it is sometimes the only review, and therefore the only historical documentation that a specific artistic event occurred. I hope to fill the information gap. After all, journalism is in service of the people — those who are living now and those who have yet to be born.”

I was recently featured by Atlanta Daybook in their “4 Questions” journalists spotlight, and the statement above is a quote from that interview. I enjoyed getting to think about why I do what I do, because so often people assume journalists’ motives and never ask. It was fun to be answering questions, instead of asking them.  I started to think about what I would want in an answer if I was conducting the interview, but ultimately I just had to tell my truth.  Check it out!



We don’t need to look to comic books to find black superheroes

When I was in New York a few weeks ago, I saw John Leguizamo’s one-man, Broadway show Latin History for Morons at Studio 54. In Morons, Leguizamao is in search of Latin heroes to share with his son, who is bullied for being the only brown kid at his all white private school. As I watched his 90-minute journey through the history of the Incas, Aztecs and Tainos, I couldn’t help but appreciate that I was getting to witness this half Latinx audience be uplifted at a time when their brothers, sisters and cousins’ amnesty was being held in the balance over man made borders.

It then made me think about African Americans and our search for heroes post Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. The angst and disappointment that we share as members of underrepresented groups is palpable, but now there is a glimmer of hope. This week, the Marvel movie Black Panther comes out and is already doing record pre-sale numbers at the box office. Black Twitter has lost its mind in anticipation of the unapologetic blackness on the horizon. In fact, there was a similar reaction in 2017 when Netflix released Luke Cage and murmurs have started as DC Comics’ Black Lightning (which you should be watching) catches on for the CW network.

I must say that I find it ironic/delightful that a movie, which also shares its name with a Black empowerment organization that is considered terroristic by the current administration, is about to make hundreds of millions of dollars– draped in kente cloth. But, I digress.

People are already calling Black Panther revolutionary, the answer to every social ill and a film that will change the landscape of superhero movies. People are buying out theaters to make sure that black and brown children can see this movie, with the promise that seeing themselves on the big screen will help them see the possibilities that their lives hold. I hope that it does all of that, and that everyone who is still apologizing for their blackness stops (please stop). But in the event that the hype dies down, and blackness is no longer trending (and therefore not as easily monetized) in art, fashion and film, I want it to be understood that there were Black superheroes before Black Panther and there will be many after.

Everyone who survived the Middle Passage was a superhero. Everyone who walked with Harriet Tubman the 500+ miles to the north was a superhero. Every person of color who learned to read and write under the threat of death is a superhero. Every soldier who fought in a war for a country that sees them as less than human is a superhero. Every musician who found it within themselves to create jazz, blues, ragtime, rock and rap in bleak circumstances is a superhero. Everyone who walked from Selma to Montgomery for the right to vote is a superhero. Everyone who shouted “Hands up don’t shoot” in Ferguson, Missouri is a superhero.

I say this not to discount the impact that this movie will have on our collectively held narrative, after all I agree with South African photographer Zanele Muholi that we must tie images to freedom. Representation in media and art are extremely important–the response to the Obama portraits this week has shown us that. However, the images that come to my mind when I think of heroism and freedom are much closer to home than a comic book strip. I think of my grandmother who worked as a maid for 20 years to raise five children by herself. I think of my cousin who was arrested more than a dozen times before her 21st birthday for protesting. I think of my grandfather who only had a 3rd grade education, but owned a gas station. I think of my great uncle who left his job working at a Coca-Cola factory in Selma, Alabama on the promise of working for Coke in Detroit, only to arrive in the Motor City and be told that they didn’t hire black people. He promptly went to General Motors and learned a new trade.

This is the story of most Black families who have risen from the depths to triumph. To say that we stand on the shoulders of giants is true, but it also something of a misrepresentation. We are giants. There is a superhero inside of every one of us, and we can tap into that power any day. To be Black in America now is to be freer than any Black person has been on this continent ever, which means that doing what your ancestors couldn’t dream of is heroic. So, live your truth, love without expectations, take a leap of faith and the next time you’re in search of a superhero, look in the mirror.

18 things I am looking forward to in 2018

I love a list and that hasn’t changed just because the year did, so here we go!

  1. Living fearlessly
  2. Loving myself better
  3. Falling in love
  4. Finding a career that allows me to use my talents, make a positive difference in the world, and earn enough money to save, invest, travel, go out to eat, and cover all of my bills/living expenses
  5. Forgiving everyone for everything
  6. Learning to enjoy eating and cooking healthy foods
  7. Being self-assured
  8. Seeing my friends and family grow, love, and live their dreams
  9. Reclaiming my time
  10. Finishing the play I am writing
  11. Going on a Caribbean vacation
  12. Moving back into my own house
  13. Continuing to review and write about art that matters
  14. Teaching arts criticism workshops
  15. Getting a good night’s rest
  16. Forming my business
  17. The Black Panther movie
  18. The return of House of Cards starring Robin Wright

The year in sadness

Good morning heartache/ Here we go again/ Good morning heartache/ You’re the one/ Who knows me well/ Might as well get use to you/ Hanging around/ Good morning heartache/ Sit down -Billie Holiday

It is often said that it is impossible to experience joy without sadness. I don’t believe this; I think that it is more accurate to say that it is impossible to appreciate joy without sadness. I believe that the full range of human emotion is possible from the womb, but experiencing the kind of sadness that you’re not sure you’ll ever get up from makes every moment of joy and happiness all the better. Sadness is my least favorite emotion, mostly because I experience sadness as a result of disappointment and I have a love/hate relationship with disappointment. It loves me; I hate it.

In the past, my method of dealing with disappointment was to not deal at all. To keep moving, keep pushing, pivot, make split second decisions, to always have a foot on the gas. The only time I ever slowed down was in the event of illness or being entirely too overwhelmed by disappointment to move on. But, those moments never lasted long and I just kept going. The problem is that the sadness that came on as a result of experiencing disappointment kept on as well.

Then, all at once, in 2017, came the flood of sadness. It had nothing to do with the results of any election or the turnout of any rally. Every relationship that didn’t work out, every job that didn’t pan out, every word that ended a friendship, and every moment where I wish I had made a different decision crawled up next to me and demanded to be acknowledged. By that time, the disappointment of every dream I’d built, and that I’d subconsciously worked at not seeing to fruition, had broken me so that all I could do was let it be. And eventually, we had to look each other in the eye and address every disappointment one-by-one.

You see, I struggled with letting the fantasy of what I thought my life would be like in my head go, and so everything that wasn’t that fantasy came up short every time. My mind constantly wandered back to 18-year-old me– so sure and so full of possibility. I knew I was going to be a magazine editor, New York Times bestselling author, wife, mother, and philanthropist before I was 30. I built a fantasy and was disappointed when it didn’t realize. My ego was bruised and I felt silly for thinking that all of those things were possible to have in the 10 years since my high school graduation. This was not a sustainable way to live, and so the Holy Spirit decided that since I wouldn’t stop or slow down, it would make it too heavy for me to move past it. The only way out of sadness is through it.

Three hundred sixty-five days later, after sitting with, in, around, and across from sadness, I can say that it has taught me five new interpretations of some very important lessons:

  1. Gratitude. Some may call it a coping mechanism, but the best pick-me-up I’ve found is sitting down and forcing myself to make a list of 10 things I am grateful for at any given moment.
  2. Release. Letting go is both easy and hard, but it’s most necessary. The book A Course In Miracles repeats the sentence “Nothing real can be threatened and nothing unreal exists” over and over again. The meaning behind this sentence in the context of the book is that fear is unreal because it comes from the ego and love is real because it comes from God. Disappointment is too much to hold onto, and it is nothing at all, and so it must be released.
  3. Stamina. As someone whose default emotion is happiness, for me, wading through sadness is like ice skating in mud. However, I was still able to live my life and even see some of my dreams come true not being at my happiest self.
  4. Obedience. Sometimes all you can do is own your purpose and follow the universe’s instructions. The only place I could look this year was up.
  5. Discernment. What I learned from sadness is precisely what Paulo Coehlo wrote in his book The Alchemist, “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” Sadness felt like an emergency but it wasn’t.

This year, I have experienced moments of elation and moments that felt so heavy that I couldn’t keep my knees from buckling while I prayed. But, I am here on the other side of sadness with the knowledge that joy is always within reach. On this last day of 2017, I can say that I know for sure that there is not permanent eraser for sadness, but it is not the beginning or end of anything. Carrying this lesson learned is all I could have asked for, and I know that 2018 will be all the better because of the experience.




Rape is always unexpected

This week, we have been barraged by news of sexual assault and rape. Harvey Weinstein has been accused by several Hollywood actresses of inappropriate contact. Audio was released by The New Yorker of a very uncomfortable confrontation between the media mogul and an undercover investigator. Rapper Nelly was also accused by a young woman of rape. The charges were dropped, but then video emerged of the rapper getting close to a teenage girl onstage in a way that appeared overtly sexual. These two incidents occur after Bill O’Reilly was let go from Fox News for multiple incidents of sexual harassment and after a Bill Cosby went through a grueling trial where 60 women came forward and accused him of drugging and raping them.

But, that’s Hollywood. Let’s bring it closer in.

This morning, an email was sent to students on the UGA campus about an incident where a freshman female student was waiting for an Uber at 2:30 a.m. A car pulled up. The young woman asked if the man driving was her Uber driver. He said no, but offered her a ride. She got in the car and he drove her to her dormitory. But, before he let her out of the car, “he reached and touched the inner portion of her thigh and demanded she give him a kiss before he would let her out as he locked the doors to the vehicle.”

I was in a meeting and one of my colleagues brought up the incident. She said she couldn’t believe how stupid the girl was to get in the car with a stranger at 2:30 a.m. She went on and on about how the girl was irresponsible and that she should have used common sense. In my mind, I thought to myself ‘don’t be that person in the meeting.’ Then I thought, ‘we all need to be that person.’ So, I said something. This is how that conversation went:

Me: How was she, as a 17 or 18-year old supposed to know that he would do that?

Colleague: Common sense. She was taught from the time that she was little not to get in the car with strangers.

Me: How do you know? You were taught that. You don’t know what she was taught.

Colleague: She got into this school. She’s smart enough to know.

Me: That has nothing to do with anything. She’s a teenager–

Colleague: Who was probably drunk–

Me: It doesn’t matter. That doesn’t give someone the right to hurt her

Colleague: You are responsible for your own body. You wouldn’t stand in the middle of a median and blame a car for hitting you.

Me: He should not be driving around picking up teenage girls and luring them into his car. There’s no excuse for that.

I was appalled. Of course I shouldn’t have been, because this same colleague once said that stay-at-home moms were not successful in their own right. Her brand of feminism comes from a place of oppression, and she is not alone. Wendy Williams apologized (or apolo-lied) on ther talkshow this week for saying that women who go backstage or get on tour buses following musicians put themselves in a compromising situation. I call bull. Sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault, molestation– these are not things that can be invited. These behaviors are the result of hurt people hurting other people and it is unacceptable.

As women, it is not our responsibility to temper who we are to make men less-likely to hurt us. It is not on us to be perfect all the time, never get drunk, never stay out late, so as to not invite perversion. We are humans and our only job is to show up as our best selves everyday. I would like to see more women make advocating for each other a part of their way of showing up. Be that person who says no, you’re wrong. She didn’t deserve that. Risk being unpopular in order to grab hold of your own freedom, because the statistics are one in three women, which means that in broad daylight, fully sober, it could still be you.

12 Quotes to inspire hope

In light of the recent alt-right rally and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, I think it’s clearer than ever than the world needs more love. I’m uninterested in writing a think piece that analyzes the motivations of people who see other people as beneath them. There enough people doing that. I am uninterested in condemning the president for what he could have done. The truth is that we the people hold the power, and we wield that power in our thoughts, words, and deeds everyday. So, below I am offering some thought/word jewels. Think these words every time you get angry. Speak these words whenever you feel rage. Watch the world around you, and within you, succumb to peace.

To get up each morning with the resolve to be happy is to set our own conditions to the events of each day. To do this is to condition circumstances instead of being conditioned by them. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Words are things. You can put a few words together and make people want to go to war. Put a different set of words together and make them long for peace. -Maya Angelou

Hope for good. Allow for better. -Christina Wong Yap

Grace is always sufficient. -Anne Lamotte

There are no prerequisites to worthiness. -Brene Brown

Love is what were born with. Fear is what we learned here. -Marianne Williamson

Correction is the job of the Holy Spirit. –A Course in Miracles

Faith is a living daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times. -Martin Luther

No hater can block a blessing. -Kelundra Smith

Absolute surrender is not about me getting closer to God, but allowing God to get closer to me. -Josh Belvins

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in the end. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

You loving me. Me loving you. God loving us. There is nothing more powerful than that. -Iyanla Vanzant

Fake News and the art of doubt

I’ll start this the way that most of these types of posts start. I normally don’t write about politics, mostly because I don’t want to add to the noise and I’d rather spread joy. But, also because having an outward political opinion and keeping a job usually don’t go hand-in-hand, and today happens to Amazon Prime Day, so…yeah…(I needed those makeup brushes y’all, all 32 of them). However, what I will speak on is a conversation that I have been having with journalists since the phrases “fake news” and “alternative facts” entered our vernacular.

Yesterday, The New York Times published an article called “Trump Jr. Was Told in Email of Russian Effort to Aid Campaign.” The article alleged that Donald Trump Jr. exchanged emails with Russia before agreeing to meet with a representative of the Russian government to discuss ways to sabotage the 2016 Presidential Election. And today, Trump Jr. tweeted screenshots of those emails for the world to read. However, I am not interested in discussing these emails, their relevance, impeachment, or collusion. I want to talk about not being able to believe what you see.

The Trump campaign, and subsequently the Democratic and Republican parties, has done a masterful job of disseminating doubt. From the moment Trump questioned Obama’s country of birth to today, he has leveraged the power of the media, on every airwave and every screen, to cast doubt in people’s minds about the messages that are being pushed in their faces in our 24-hour news cycle world. Other politicians, in both parties, have followed suit in order to win recent mid-term elections. As a freelance journalist who primarily writes about arts & culture, I’m used to people not believing what they see, but when we’re talking about domestic and world news it becomes a different story.

When I heard about the Times article and read it, honestly I thought, ‘what difference does it make?’ The reason why is because we have so allowed people’s perceptions to become their realities that nothing that does not align with that perception matters anymore. If you are a person who despises Trump, you will say “Finally! Proof for impeachment! They colluded with Russia. Clinton should have won,” and if you are someone who supports his presidency, you will say “The New York Times is an anti-democratic liberal propaganda machine that has it out for the President because they are mad that the former senator from their state lost!” And there it is. There are only alternative facts on both sides and no one cares about the truth, only what is true to them. Even with Trump Jr. tweeting photos of the emails, there’s a way to spin that. Those emails don’t really prove anything, his Twitter account was hacked, someone who hates Trump leaked them. He was smart to tweet them because he got ahead of the story. The ways to raise doubt are innumerable and so is the frequency.

Now, I’m not letting the media off the hook here. They helped create distrust in themselves, especially in the early 2000s when there were a handful of high-profile cases where journalists at reputable newspapers fabricated stories. Cable news (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc) is also a huge part of the problem as they have done another masterful job of conflating the words “news magazine” and “talk show” with actual news. Most of the time, these networks are obliged to advertisers, and the news they tell is the news they sell. Lack of diversity in newsrooms didn’t help, because people in marginalized communities couldn’t believe the stories they were reading about their own communities, and no one ever interviewed them. In addition, in all aspects of the news, the notions of objectivity and fair and balanced reporting are somewhere with the baby and the bathwater. As newsrooms began to shrink by the thousands 10 years ago, journalists did a piss poor job of advocating for, and helping the public to realize the importance of, journalism. They assumed that because they had always been there, they were entitled to be there, which is why they are now drawing pictures of Sean Spicer giving press conferences.

This brings me to the conversations I have been having with some journalist friends. As much as I give journalists a hard time, I also moonlight as one, and let me tell you that it is clearer than ever that people don’t understand what journalists do and how they do it. There seems to be this impression that journalists sit at their desks and create tales in the same way as novelists. This is fake news. Generally speaking, a reported story for a reputable news outlet has a minimum of three credible sources who have exchanged emails, had phone conversations with, and/or met in-person with the reporter. Sometimes, those people refuse to go on the record. At that point, most reporters try to find someone who will, but if they can’t, they use that anonymous source. Anonymous sources are only used when the information they have to offer is so essential that it cannot be attained elsewhere. An article can take anywhere from 12 hours to 12 months to write, depending on its scope, and in the end, the paper trail of spreadsheets, documents, emails, audio recordings, and notebooks is long and windy. For a publication such as the Times, the fact-checking process for an article like the one published yesterday, is probably grueling.

I’ll give you two examples from the world of fluff that I write in, and not to sound arrogant, but I’m a good reporter. I wrote an article for a local magazine about the National Museum of African American History & Culture. After reading it, my editor highlighted all of the sections where he either had questions, or thought we needed to cite the source. I then had to go back and answer his questions, add in a couple more sources, and even had to go back and do some extra reporting to answer one of his questions. From there, the article went to a copyeditor and a fact checker.

Another example is an article I wrote for a national publication about artist and arts administrator salaries in regional theatres across the country. I started off by asking actors in different cities which theatres paid the most and which theaters paid the least. None would go on the record, because they were afraid of losing work in the future, but they all gave me leads and tips (mostly through Facebook message conversations). I then interviewed artistic and managing directors of theatres across the country about the wages they pay actors. I checked figures to the best of my ability against their Form 990s, which are the financial forms that all 501c3 organizations must complete. Once I turned in the article, we went through three rounds of intense edits to ensure accuracy.

Those are just two examples, and journalists who work on politics, local government, education, and science articles can offer a whole lot more insight about how reporting works. That said, I also am sure that this pandemic distrust in the media is more rampant than ever, it’s not new, and it’s not going away. After all, how do you know I’m being forthcoming about my process if I haven’t published the notes from my interviews? There’s that doubt creeping in…

But, here’s the truth: Hillary’s emails, Trump Jr.’s emails, and who met with Russia or emailed Russia matters, but it is also a distraction. Americans will spend so much time outraged (4-8 years, maybe), that they won’t notice that healthcare, agricultural, environmental, education, and economic reforms are not happening. Who helped you when you needed time off to heal from a health crisis or care for a loved one? Where was your elected official when you lost your house and job and had to file for bankruptcy? What jobs that pay $15 or more per hour and don’t require a college education have come to your community? When did it become acceptable for the people who make between $65,000-$250,000 per year to have to shoulder the debt for everyone, with no reprieve? What laws have been passed to help your family in the past 15 years? Name them. The issue is not fake news, the issue is fake people making fake promises.

So, where do we go from here? To the polls in 2018 is a good idea, but it’s not where we start. We start with a recommitment to the truth, no matter how much it disturbs our perceptions. We start by bringing back humanistic value and truly believing that every human life matters. We start by seeking out information on our own and not believing only what we are fed. We commit ourselves to questioning why someone else’s perception disturbs our own. And most of all, we commit to valuing discernment (which is a measure of trust) over doubt (which is a measure of distrust). If we become a discerning public, instead of a doubtful public, we hold the power. Then, we can start a fruitful discussion about policy, instead of a flailing discussion about perception.