The (Un)Bearable Blackness of Being

“For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”  -The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

Hello beautiful people,

I’ve missed you! There is so much that I have wanted to say. I don’t know about you, but when I get overwhelmed (in this case with words that I want to write), sometimes I find it easier to not write at all. This is just one of many attempts to process some of what I have been seeing and feeling lately.

Recently, I went to go watch a student of mine march with her band on a steamy Saturday afternoon. It was muggy–the kind of “a 30 second monsoon is imminent” kind of disgustingly muggy that makes one feel as though they are swimming through pea soup. Everyone was assembled in what basically amounts to a parking lot in front of an old vocational skills center. There was no shade and no seats in sight. And it was LIT.

Let me recap if you missed it. Humid day, hanging out in an empty lot waiting for festivities to begin, and it was SO much fun! Watching people prepare for their band’s turn to go on, talk and laugh, sprinkle water on faces or on washcloths draped on heads to keep cool…listening to the DJ at the far end of the parking lot encouraging people to invite others because “we need to support our kids when they are doing the right thing!” it occurred to me randomly, as it often does nowadays:

MAN….I really love my people! I mean, we can make a celebration out of anything–growing up, I can’t tell you how many times a simple summer Sunday dinner of grilled food ended up being a cookout–Mom and Auntie would invite a few people, I would invite the bestie and a few others, someone would throw 92Q (if I had my way) or 95.9 (if I didn’t) on the radio and stretch the cord to sit in the doorway, Scrabble/cards/dominoes/Jenga would come out, and there you have it…insta-party.

I flash back to when my great-grandmother passed during my junior year of high school. Sad occasion, yes. But one of the first things that I remember my mother or grandmother saying was that the family was all wearing winter white. Why? Because this wasn’t a funeral, dark and depressing complete with weeping and gnashing of teeth. This was a celebration of a 91 (i believe) year long life that had been VERY well lived. My great-grandmother deferred college for herself for years and made sure that every last one of her siblings would have a chance to go. She loved her man with everything in her and together they loved on their daughter, grandchildren, and in my great-grandmother’s case, my cousin and I. I have fond memories of her making me big ol’ country breakfasts when I stayed at her house and saving my behind when I did something worth getting in trouble for.

When I was little, I used to hear the pastor say “hallelujah, anyhow”. Things may go completely awry, but if you can find just a small glimmer of hope, just a slight reason to have joy, you can make it. This is a post celebrating what I feel like we do best as a people–we rise above the nonsense, refuse to let said nonsense define us, and do what we can to find a “hallelujah anyhow”. These are signs of  our resilience.

Every May, you see the prom parade commence. When I left for my senior prom back in (gasp!!) 2005, my mom probably laid out a few snacks, everybody took pictures of my date and I in front of the hot pink azalea bush in my front yard, and that was that. My aunt-by-marriage’s mother (to this day, I am not sure how she ended up seeing me off) stuck a 20 down my dress “for emergencies” (yes, she stuck it there herself), my grandfather probably mildly threatened the life of my date, we hopped in my uncle’s Escalade and rolled out. Nowadays like clockwork, you hear stories of parents shipping in three tons of sand, several luxury cars and a CAMEL for an epic Dubai themed prom sendoff.

Also, like clockwork, you hear the naysayers (actual comments below):

“Why do those people put so much emphasis on appearances?”
“I wonder if she even has a job–wasn’t she sick?” How’d she afford it?”
“I bet she hasn’t invested that much in his college education!!”

(Just so we are aware, Johnny Eden, Jr. had a 3.8 GPA, his mom wanted to honor his excellence, and she WAS incredibly sick but promised herself that if she lived she’d celebrate her son. I don’t know if she has saved for his college education, but that’s not really my business.)

There was an article posted by The Washington Post about Baltimore ( and presumably other low-income, high-violence cities) and it talked about how these cities tend to go all out for high school graduations and proms because there is a high probability that they won’t have a significant amount of happy events to celebrate in the future. People are being killed. They are dying from high rates of preventable and non-preventable diseases. Drugs are running rampant. Nihilism is at an all time high in these high trauma neighborhoods…people report feeling trapped in the cycle. The talented, the bright, the motivated are encouraged to take hold of every opportunity that they can and LEAVE.

A few days after the humid parking lot marching band extravaganza, the news hit that the officer who murdered Philando Castile would not be charged in his murder. A wave of anger followed closely…theoretically, wasn’t Castile doing all of the things that we are told that we must do in order to spare our lives when speaking to police. Remain calm? Did that. Keep hands where they can be seen? Check. Generally be an upstanding member of society? Yes. Respond to officer demands? Yup. And still, another death certificate was being crafted.

In the book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” Kundera weighs Nietzsche’s philosophy of eternal return (that with an infinite amount of time and a finite number of events, events will repeat themselves) with Parmenides’s understanding of life as lightness. It seems to be that the lives of Black people in this country are filled with the eternal return of situations that shouldn’t bear repeating.

Every time another acquittal scrolls across the screen.

Each time a star football player who is a standout in the league gets blackballed for silently protesting injustice.

Every time a #BlackWomenAtWork hashtag needs to be added to because we feel invisible in the workplace.

Every time a person paints themselves in Blackface and doesn’t understand (or care about) the implications.

Every time a movie is cast and people don’t understand why _______________ is Black now.

For every microaggression, every ill-timed joke, every comment, we feel that unbearable Blackness of being…

And yet.

blackjoy

We inevitably choose lightness. We choose to BLAST Frankie Beverly and Maze and two step with a drink in hand. We choose to scream and yell and go absolutely nuts when our collective babies graduate and beat the odds. We choose to have debutante balls, crab feasts, bull roasts, step shows, fetes, prom sendoffs, marching band exhibitions, praise parties and hilarious gender reveals. There was an article on the HuffPost that said “Black Joy is Black Resistance”. I agree. We choose that lightness of being.

And I am so glad that we do.

 

#PhenomenalWomanWednesdays: The Art of Joy

Hello beautiful people!

I’m back at it again with another edition of Phenomenal Woman Wednesday. Have you ever had that friend where you couldn’t exactly remember the moment that started it all, but you realized that the intertwining of your life’s has changed the fabric of time? That sounds incredibly dramatic, but there are people who are movers and shakers, and there are others that are shifters. Joy SHIFTS. 

  
I met Joy through attending Destiny Harvest, and she quickly became irreplaceable. She has taught me how to love my heritage a bit more, speaks vision into my life, and encourages those giftings that God has placed on my life that were lying dormant beforehand—honestly, there might not be a Paper, Ink and Jesus if not for her. I have been writing since my early teens, and I went through a stage where my writing reflected my mindset. My poetry could be dark, angry, and sarcastic–it dealt with my fractured relationship with my dad, my singleness (and resulting lust), and my interactions with the public in unhealthy ways and became a tool for revenge moreso than an avenue for His peace….once I decided that I didn’t want to live like that anymore, I was at a loss–how was I supposed to use this really dynamic thing in a way to give God the glory? I stopped sharing and creating out of pure fear that my best wouldn’t be good enough. I stopped writing, and Joy was one of those God-sent agents of change that convinced me to start up again. She even took my stage name–Birthwrite–and refashioned it, because He makes all things new. 

  
Aside from that, though, one of the biggest lessons that I have taken from observing and just generally getting to know Joy is the transformative power of a crazy, bold faith. I’m not talking about crossing your fingers and hoping that life pans out in the way you hope for. Au contraire, mon frere. No, when I say big faith, I mean the kind that wills you to take huge steps because you have communed with God and you hear His voice, and though what He is saying doesn’t even fully make sense to you, you know that with His hand on it, the plan is infallible. So you go–and not begrudgingly either. You go expectantly, just waiting on Him to manifest Himself in people, situations, opportunities, God-moments, etc. And that is exactly what Joy has done. I won’t get into the nuts and bolts, because Joy has her own testimony to share. I know personally, I am going through a season where clarity is needed and vision is eagerly anticipated, so if you are at this crossroads of life, I trust that something that Joy has to say will speak to you as well. 

  
1. Jump in, Jump out…introduce yourself! What are three things that we don’t know about you?

Hello beautiful! My name is Joy and I’ve known Steph for three years. Honestly, I don’t remember how we met but life is full of pleasant surprises and Steph is one of my favorites. I do remember where though, church–probably because I needed a ride home. Anyway, it’s one of those “right on time” sisterhoods because God knew that I needed it BADLY. I’m so grateful to have her in my tribe.

As tiny as I am, I love food and I’m a serial snacker. My guilty pleasure is online window shopping and my browser is full of open tabs of clothing that I like but never buy. There’s a special place in my heart for classic (read: old) movies. Casablanca and Gone with the Wind are my favorites. I can watch them over and over again and I have.

2. What would you say is your biggest testimony right now?

Graduating from graduate school! Columbia was the last school that I applied to AND it was after I had received rejection letters from all the other schools that I applied to. Columbia was also far better than the other schools that I applied to so I was prepared for yet another “we appreciate your application” letter. Somehow they said yes and I ended up in NYC. It was and still is a revelation of “seek first the Kingdom and all things will be added” (Matthew 6:33). I’m still learning that God puts me in places that I am undeserving of and dare I say unqualified for simply because I have my eyes fixed on Him. What an incredible privilege that is. What tends to be overlooked is this tricky space between the seeking and addition called waiting. Ah, that’s the rub! 
However, God’s timing is perfection (yes, the noun). Well, duh! It’s takes a lot to say it and then a whole lot more to believe it. Borrowed words of wisdom: “God is not slow to act, He is slow to anger.” I’m more than grateful for the second part because I’m a struggle at times and God has been more than gracious because I can get a bit foolish. But the former refutes our frustration! His timing is perfect. We live life forward but understand in hindsight. On our timeline it looks like He’s slow or even withholding which is so unlike His nature (He’s the giver of all things-Romans 8:28). I consistently have “ohhh” moments when I realize how perfectly God has orchestrated the events in my life and those around me (Jeremiah 29:11). Simply being in NYC at this time required some God time-warping (and favor). I’m understanding that this particular time and place was molded to have me in it meaning that God thought of me before the beginning of time. Nuts! So God is in no way slow. He’s a master planner so just relax and let Him lead.
3. What is your favorite Bible verse and why? 
There are so many gems in Romans but Romans 8:19 has been my daily mantra. I’ve had this verse stuck in my mind since my move to NYC and the funny thing is I can never remember the reference (unless prompted) but the idea is permanently engrained– “all of creation is eagerly awaiting the reveal of God’s sons and daughters.” Creation has been waiting for me (and you)! I want to serve others, restore hope in those that were hopeless, feeling unworthy, forgotten and unheard but most importantly, I want to do what God has sent me on this earth to do–bring His children home. There is no one else that can do it the way I do. No one else with my gifts and experiences. It’s the ultimate locker room pep talk.
4. What is life teaching you right now?
Life is teaching me how to dream and know that God goes beyond my wildest dreams. There are so many things that I have prayed for that I’m living in now and other things that I’m glad were rejected. My reality is so different and so much better than what I planned for myself. Trading my life for LIFE has been an incredible upgrade.
5. What does being a Christian woman mean to you?
Being a Christian woman means that I strive to be an embodiment of God’s beauty so much so that others are encouraged to participate. It’s experiencing the freedom that comes with choosing and knowing Jesus. It’s making the gospel the obsession of my heart and living it out.
Isn’t she fantastic? Hope that this resonated with you somehow, and I’m looking forward to stories of your own crazy faith steps! 

Be blessed!
StephTheScribe