When I was growing up, I could see myself on a handful of TV shows. Some people thought I looked like Rudy on The Cosby Show (I didn’t). A boy in my homeroom in 9th grade thought I looked like Tia or Tamera from Sister, Sister (Again, not at all). Our images were so few and far between people had to think of the one or two characters they knew and attach you to it. It also felt like there were a group of shows that no one outside of the Black people I knew watched and if they did, they NEVER talked about it.
I remember excitedly anticipating the premiere of Moesha. A show that centered on a Black teenage girl (played by “I Wanna Be Down” Brandy!) I. Was. Sold.
I taped it on our family VCR. That’s right. I said it. An old rickety VCR. She was smart! I was smart! She liked boys and writes in a diary?! Me too! As I got older, I watched shows with my sister (mostly) and friends that we could relate to, saw parts of ourselves in and who we wanted to be.
Then the UPN and the WB eventually became the CW before they took all of them off the air to gear their programming to an unmistakably whiter and younger audience.
Where was my Girlfriends? I loved seeing 4 Black women with distinctly different backgrounds. I missed the freewheeling artistic vegan Lynn, the smart and sassy Maya, the neurotic but loyal Joan and the sexy and ambitious Toni. Where was I ever going to see shows like Half and Half (Mona’s hair and those boots!), One on One or The Game again?
I know now I can watch Black-ish, Insecure, Queen Sugar or grittier shows like Michaela Coel’s “I May Destroy You” for creative and quality representation but there was something special about the mid-90’s-2000’s. Even if every episode of all the shows weren’t classic, we all knew what we were talking about when we referenced “The Professor”, yelled “Go home, Roger!” and sang “Mo to the. E to the…”
There aren’t shows (that I know of) that Black teens are growing up with that reflect their experiences in a comedic way on a major network. I feel bad that my niece or nephew doesn’t have shows like this so they may rely more on YouTube. Network television has failed in representing them in this way.
So why am I writing about this now?! The news broke today that 6 of these shows will be coming to Netflix over the next couple months!! As much as I am celebrating, I know people have been campaigning for years to make this happen.
We have been waiting for years for our shows to be valued.
For our creativity and laughter and silliness and talent and the audience who enthusiastically appreciated it from Day 1 to matter.
I know there will be many people like me who will be joyfully singing theme songs, lamenting about 90’s to mid 2000’s fashion and falling in love with these characters all over again.
And for those who really know:
Through this journey of discovery (x2)
In finding you, and finding me (x2)
Now that I have someone special
That brings out the joy (x2)
Inside of me (x2)
We can become whatever we want
All we need is loving you
That’s the way our feelings should be
You and Me…
I heard those words in a video around 1:30am. I had one blank page left in a brown leather bound journal on my side table. I wrote those words down because I never want to forget them.
They had meaning. It was life-giving.
It was spoken by a diver. She is a member of a group: Diving with a Purpose. Their mission is to deep dive into oceans on the hunt for shipwrecked vessels that once held captive Africans. They teach people how to measure the ship, collect vital information and preserve history. These men and women, many of whom are Black, feel compelled to learn to dive, become guardians of history to find us.
Those who never made it.
Those who chose the sea.
I wept a little as I watched. Their resolve was clear. Their bravery and curiosity stoked flames in me.
What will I deep dive for?
What will I fight to preserve?
What will I not let slide anymore, desperate to believe he or she or they “didn’t really mean it?”
It has been said that we all have angels assigned to us or all around us.
If that is true, mine sent me to the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa last weekend.
I was chosen, along with 14 other women across the country to participate in a three-day workshop called The Storyteller Project: Digital Storytelling for Women of Color facilitated by Dr. Robin Boylorn and Veralyn Williams with a special lunch and learn with Dr. Rachel Raimist.
When I was selected, I remember feeling so much excitement that I paced the room. I didn’t even think about what it would be or who I would be in that space until I got the additional information we needed to prepare before coming–“Bring an excerpt written by/about a woman of color that inspires or resonates with you (one paragraph or less). Personal story ideas or topics (Consider what part of your story do you want to tell, and why?)”
That part of the preparation made it real. I was going to come and fellowship, yes. But I was going to have to do the work. Ask myself serious questions. It demanded that one of my truths be spoken.
As time passed and the workshop was rescheduled from August to October, I had time to let a few doubts seep in about whether or not my story would be compelling or impactful enough but I never let it take up residence in my mind, the only place that matters.
Within seconds of arriving in The Hub at the University of Alabama, any fears I had were allayed. I was met with such warmth by the other women, Dr. Robin Boylorn and her graduate assistant, Lola I was instantly at ease. I no longer doubted the validity or the strength of my story. There was no reason to wonder why I had been chosen.
There was no time for my “stuff.”
I was there not only to be a participant and a storyteller but to bear witness.
I witnessed Black women being daughters, Black women being mothers and Black women being sisters.
Black women giving ourselves permission to fall apart recognizing there was someone there to provide a soft place, lap and heart.
I witnessed women give birth to their stories.
It was painstaking at times but it was healing.
There were women aching to release their screams, aching for the women who raised them, aching to claim their sexuality, aching for healing, aching to tell stories of other silenced and forgotten Black men and women, aching to be seen and aching for a way to grieve.
There were moments where my heart was so full “overflow” will never be the word, is not enough of a word.
On Day 1, we were asked to work in groups to talk about Black women, our stories and address the themes of the passages we brought.
By Day 3, it was evident they weren’t just words in marker on paper taped to a wall. We gave those words life. We breathed life into those words. We embodied those themes and stories in our work.
I was in a room full of survivors.
Author Tracy Dorsey aka Hazel Mills moved me to tears with her story.
Me and Lakeesha Harris, a woman who isn’t afraid to speak her truth and honor her ancestors.
Jilisa Milton (future civil rights lawyer) and Jameka Hartley (passionate storyteller and force of nature) chopping it up before we got going on Day 3.
Getting ready for Day 1!
Producer extraordinaire and my birthday twin Veralyn Williams!
Bernadette Merikle wowed us with her spirit and artistry!
Allison Upshaw–love the spirit and gorgeous operatic voice on this diva!
Me and masterful storyteller Salaam Green, also one of my See Jane Write sisters!
Veralyn showing us the ropes on Day 2.
Education advocate Cassandra Jones. She was sweet and when she spoke of wanting to tell her family stories reminded me of how much I want to tell more of my grandmother’s.
Me with my adventurous hometown sister Delilah Gilliam and our amazing workshop assistant, Lola!
No More Martyrs founder Nadia Richardson and Allison Upshaw. I loved connecting with these ladies!
Professor and podcast host, Tiffany Pogue is a dynamic sister who honors her ancestors.
None other than our awe-inspiring leader, Dr. Robin Boylorn and fiery lawyer-to-be Andrea Dobynes!
On Day 2, Dr. Rachel Raimist joined the party via Zoom in Los Angeles. She imparted valuable advice on how to break down our audio to prepare them for Day 3. During the session, she used a photo of her own grandmother and mother to propose a story. I loved how she used something as simple as the frame (or lack thereof) to give us ideas on the many ways to approach a narrative.
Veralyn Williams (NPR producer with the patience of an angel) came from New York to start co-facilitating with Robin and help us produce our audio/audio-visual stories. In addition to sharing her digital storytelling expertise, she challenged me. I had never used the IMovie application before and I was frustrated trying to navigate it. After helping me with some of the more difficult parts of the editing process, she let me know in no uncertain terms she was not going to complete it for me.
Even though I didn’t ask her to, she knew if I sat back and let her continue to work on the visuals, I would have. It became glaringly obvious how uncomfortable I am with people recognizing my fear of not being able to do something well.
I psyched myself up to finish, remembering we were all in this together and as Robin lovingly pointed out, this was technically a first draft.
After dinner and pictures we all sat together (including Robin’s beautiful mother) to screen our stories and enjoy cake.
I know I can only speak for myself but what I experienced during and especially after the screening was no less than supernatural.
When a group of Black women who don’t hold shame and celebrate the skin they’re in congregate and create with love, there is a sense of power, a collective power in the room.
I am a member. I fell in. I joined. I paid. I listened. I spoke up. I have shouted. I have risen. I have sat down. I have dreamed. I have cowered. I have fallen down. I have kneeled with purpose. I have prayed. I have cursed. I have written.
I was born.
Within this tribe, these tribes, I am human. I have found my humanity and I find myself extending my hand to touch yours.
I am not a walking color. I am not a walking color. I am not a walking color. I am not a Black robot that walks and talks. I am a Haitian-American woman, born in Queens, New York. Hearing two languages spoken around me was my norm. Rice and beans are my norm.
I became a Southerner by moving to Virginia Beach at age five. I never became a Southern belle. That is not me. I cry when I pray. I laugh so hard I snort. I dance by myself. I played pretend. I built forts with my brother and took pictures on the beach with my sister. I crushed on boys who didn’t like me and avoided some who did. I have gained and lost hundreds of pounds.
I am married. I am madly in love with my best friend, my husband. I fear for his health sometimes. I joke and tell him we are going out of this world together, hands clasped together on the same bed, Notebook style. I will be 100. You will be 110. Them’s the rules! I joke in an awful country accent.
I wear an afro. Reading was my first love. I have swallowed more rage than I can recount since I was a little girl because to some people, I am a walking color. I am a walking color.