Reducing The Stigma Around Mental Illness by C. Imani Williams

The efforts to reduce the stigma around mental illness is gaining momentum. With awareness, more people are seeking help. In the U.S., one in five adults lives with mental illness. Mental disorders change how we see and interact with the world. Healthy people.gov reports that untreated mood disorders can cause physical pain that may lead to impairment and sometimes death. Stress and anxiety are mental health disorders affecting thousands of people. Those living with mental health issues have the right to understanding and compassion. When society can view mental health as a treatable condition, the same way that physical illness is seen, individuals and families and communities will fare better.

Mental Health Awareness

Numbers for people living with mental health concerns include young adults trying to navigate the world of work, school, and personal relationships. Death of loved ones is never easy and the grief and loss process is often considerable. Finding and maintaining one’s chosen career path and the desire to keep up with peers doesn’t help. The housing market and just how to afford safe and reasonable housing costs cause anxiety on their own. Make self-care a priority and know that answer does not lie at the bottom of an alcohol bottle or other substances. It doesn’t. Talk to someone.

Don’t Sleep on Community Resources

With the Internet, things changed. There are calls to raise awareness through group discussions, memes, Gifs, articles, and video. Community-based organizations offer workshops which are often free or sliding scale to attend. Meetings on the ground and online provide safe spaces for people to obtain information and get questions answered. Group community meetings are a source of therapy via peer support. You don’t have to talk if you aren’t ready. Just sitting and listening is fine. It can be helpful to listen to others who share similar experiences. It can help people learn to recognize triggers and develop and coping skills for handling situations. Membership with National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), can be had for just five dollars. It gives access to information and the opportunity to attend meetings. They keep up to date stats. NAMI gives numbers and expresses concern over the number of incarcerated youth and adults and homeless people not being treated.

Feeling Out of Sorts?

There are different levels of depression. Catching the blues can happen to anyone at any time. A bad day or series of bad days. An unexpected crisis can spiral downward fast. It may feel like you can’t breathe at times causing anxiety and in more serious cases panic attacks. Not being able to get out of bed, feeling drained and irritable, and not feeling like ourselves means something is going on. We all get down from time to time. That’s normal. Don’t let it get to the point where you become immobilized.

Signs of Depression

Depression contains elements of despair and hopelessness. Loss and grief, a bad memory that won’t go away, concerns over finances, breakups, and family arguments can all trigger emotions and mood, causing a person to shut down. It’s best not to ignore sleeplessness, lack of appetite, and even changes in sex drive, they can all point to an underlying cause.

The other thing that can happen when we aren’t in touch with our feelings or avoid them is to overindulge in things like eating and sex to mask feelings. It’s easy to try and push bad feelings down by medicating, but avoidance comes with a price.

There are different levels of depression. The most serious requires treatment. Talking with a trained professional is helpful for many people. After the initial intake where you answer a lot of questions based on family history, substance abuse and how you handle life’s challenges. Medication may be prescribed to help. It’s important to remember that mental health disorders have to do with how the brain is wired. A person cannot turn off and on because people are concerned or don’t believe you have an issue. It’s real. Be encouraged to seek help. There are certain conditions that are best treated with medication. A trained professional can make that decision.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), terminology for soldiers living with mental illness following tours of duty has company. Studies show that anyone exposed to trauma can develop PTSD. Survivors of childhood sexual assault and other life-altering situations make PTSD possible. It’s listed as a disability and getting treatment is necessary. With the disorder comes nightmares, anxiety, and the inability to sleep or function with loud noises. Hence the call every Independence Day for citizens to be mindful that firecrackers are not fun for everyone. Compassion and understanding for fellow citizens is a good thing.

Healing Arts

Alternative therapy utilizes healing arts including yoga, meditation, massage, Reiki, acupuncture, healthier diet, and getting out of the house. A community art class, journaling and other writing, all help to tap into creativity and can help calm the spirit. Energy work includes crystals, singing bowls and working with a healing artist on breathing techniques and being present and in tune with the body.

Self-Care Matters

We know when we’re off balance. It can be a really scary feeling. If we grew up with mental illness it can really put us at odds. Those feelings have to be addressed for well-being. Comedian Robin Williams lost his battle with depression and committed suicide. So have many others Famed actor Jenifer Lewis is very candidate in her interviews about her battle with mental illness and sex addiction which she also discusses in her memoir, The Mother of Black Hollywood. She’s speaking out because she,” Lived in darkness for decades.” Bipolar disorder can cause one to oversexualize. So can denial. Stay on top of mental health and live your best life.

Copyright 2018 by C. Imani Williams. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Mystical Ms. Mitchell And Sixth-Grade Madness’ by C. Imani Williams

I’m a proud 70s kid who hails from Detroit, Michigan. Teachers play a large part in a child’s academic success. I was blessed with a list of influential elementary teachers: Miss. Shirell in kindergarten was loving and fun, Ms. Johnson 1st /2nd-grade split, handled her classroom with seasoned expertise, Mrs. Porter in 2nd grade was my Shero. I spent a day in her home playing with her two youngest daughters who attended school with me.

Mrs. Bayer 4th grade was different only in that, she was white and fluffy. I adored her. We had extended school that year. Teachers went on strike demanding better pay in late August. Ms. Bayer brought in Wyler’s (I liked it!) not, Kool-Aid mind you, so we wouldn’t melt trying to concentrate in summer weather, without air conditioning.

Ms. Milliken the stately auditorium teacher would be the first person to place a microphone in my hand on the auditorium stage, the first to introduce to me to a life long passion for writing by taking me to Oakland University for a youth creative writing conference. She was significant in my winning a city-wide writing contest and receiving a key to the city for my short story in fifth grade.

I was also sweet for the librarian Ms. Gwendolyn Dudley-Warren. She made me fall in love with books and journeys to far away places. They were all beautiful and serious about the business of educating young people. I enjoyed school and worked to please my teachers. My parents were educators who took pride in their chosen professions. My best was expected.

My absolute favorite, though, was Ms. L. Marie Mitchell. Sixth graders at Mac Dowell Elementary in Northwest Detroit considered themselves lucky to land in her homeroom.

The other choice, Mr. Mitchell, (not related) a by-the-book white male, was voted least favorite by students. I lucked out. I would spend sixth grade in the presence of a black goddess. I vowed to be her favorite. All the girls wanted to be like her, and the boys, well, they simply lusted after her. Smitten, I was on both sides.

Cocoa brown skin, light brown hair with blonde streaks, intense brown eyes, a killer smile with a diastema, that pulled me in on our first meeting. Ms. Mitchell had favorite auntie flavor. The kind of flavor that would chastise you, and hug you up at the same time.

Ms. Mitchell was the first woman I knew to demand “Ms.” be used when greeting her. I was impressed. She never said, “Using “Ms.” was act of colorism, womanism, or feminism.” Still, her insistence on defining herself was empowering for me.

Ms. Mitchell wore the baddest, colorful, form-fitting two piece skirt-suits, and dresses I’d ever seen. My mother was fashionable. Ms. Mitchell with her Pam Grier figure was not only fashionable she was smoking hot.

You wanted to impress her. She was smart and sassy. “Don’t come standing over me if you haven’t brushed your teeth! I will e-m-b-a-r-r-a-s you!” We knew she meant it.

The other teachers on the upper-class wing seemed to keep their distance. I’d spent time in the teacher’s lounge at my mother’s school. Her circle of teacher friends were either popping by the house or we were dropping by their place. I didn’t sense any closeness between Ms. Mitchell and her peers. Was it ownership of her femininity and warrior spirit that threatened them?

On Fridays, if we had completed all our work and not given her problems during the week, Ms. Mitchell allowed us to bring in popcorn. In a corner against the wall, she kept a record player. We students eyed it longingly Monday through Thursday. It was genius really. Using a record player to reinforce good behavior, it worked. If Danny acted out he had to answer to the rest of us. We all wanted music and popcorn after lunch while we completed quiet work.

We’d bring 45’s in and bags filled with popcorn, which Ms. Mitchell would transfer into a large garbage bag. Thirty pairs of grubby sixth-grade hands reached inside placing their fare on brown school issued bathroom paper towel. We lived for Friday!

My classmates and I went home for Christmas vacation that December. During break, our families were informed via US postal mail, that we would be entering Beaubien Middle School at the close of vacation. Had there been a moratorium placed withholding this pertinent news? Why hadn’t anyone told us? Heck, why hadn’t anyone told ME? This was huge, an outrageous, grossly wrong error of magnificent proportion. Ms. Mitchell was my world. Adults and their illogical thinking.

Thankfully, I had the rest of vacation to prepare mentally for what caused me grave concern over my ability to go on. I mean there were abandonment issues to consider. Tweendom is a hard enough stage. You aren’t a baby anymore, but you haven’t quite entered the seemingly awesome zone of teenage years. I doubted that those in charge of Detroit Public Schools ever considered how traumatizing their untimely decision to separate me from Ms. Mitchell was.
Being pulled away from elementary school without warning was a lesson in life. That it happened during puberty makes it that much more significant to me. To excel, students need a sense of self, spirituality, cultural/heritage knowledge, racial pride, a solid foundation in the basics, and to be challenged, academically and creatively.
I could have used those additional months of familiarity with Ms. Mitchell and the rest of the teachers I’d grown to love. My parents divorced the next year. Maybe, Ms. Mitchell was sent to help prepare my spirit for the many changes I’d be facing.
Whatever the reason for her surprise entry and quick exit from my life, I thank her and the beautiful teachers from my early school days. They gifted me a bountiful box of resources.

Women’s Herstory month calls for recognition of all the great women past and present whose shoulders we stand on. I give honor.

Copyright 2018 by C. Imani Williams. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Forgiveness Is A Big Part Of Self-Love’ by C. Imani Williams

Ask someone about forgiveness and you generally get one of two reactions. Either a scowl followed by a rant explaining why forgiveness won’t ever happen, or a person who has figured out that forgiveness opens a door to reclaiming self-love. In cases of the former, that scowl has to be examined.

If left to fester, it can turn to stress and kill you spiritually and physically. The latter option is your best bet.

Forgiveness Matters

Here’s why. That scowl comes with a price. You’re angry. I get it, I really do. You believe in your heart, that you’ve been done wrong, and you’ll be damned if you let that person hurt you again. Your feelings are valid.In an article on forgiveness, Psychology Today reports on just why it’s so easy to hold a grudge. They state, “Being hurt by someone, particularly someone you love and trust, can cause anger sadness and confusion.” As a survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA), I grappled with forgiving my perpetrator. After decades and lots of therapy, I did forgive, but I write about him frequently in conjunction with my advocacy work against CSA and Sexual assault.

Dig, Deeper

Do you know anyone who hasn’t been faced with having to consider forgiveness? Probably not, because as humans we all feel. Factor in that harboring angry emotion against someone who has hurt you ends up hurting you more in the long run. I’m in no way suggesting you break bread and pick up the relationship. We fare better in certain situations if we love from a distance, assess and progress.

Get Your #Glowup On

We sometimes let unforgiveness get in the way of our personal growth. When we can’t forgive, we stunt our progress and in essence, we play ourselves. Deal with it, give yourself permission to process and if you’re mad for a minute, so be it. Don’t stay in that sunken place though. Been there, done that.

Open Your Heart to Self-Love

The best option as mentioned is the route to self-love. It requires that we get fiercely honest with ourselves about wanting to move from a place of pain back into the light. The first key is finding our voice, which leads to understanding our worth and coming into self-love. Some people get it early on. I didn’t. Don’t be like Imani. Save yourself some time and heed the life lessons early.

With Honesty Comes Clarity

Speaking of honesty, I’ve only come into my own over the last seven years. Also true is the fact, that I won’t go back to accepting any less than I deserve. It doesn’t matter whether shade is being thrown from a family member or a love interest. Treat me the way you want to be treated.I protect the peace I worked hard for.

Trauma Is Exhausting, Fight Past It!

My second marriage was short-lived and abusive. Through domestic violence counseling (group and individual), I found my voice. When I ran into him unexpectedly, a few years later, I immediately found a group meeting. I was scared, not of him, but of what I wanted to do to him. Believe me, when I say, I had to dig deep in lending forgiveness his way. In the end, I bet on self-love, by making a conscious decision not to track him down and make him feel pain like he had caused me. I had to love myself and my freedom more than the desire to cause him bodily harm. Growth!

Get Busy With Self-Empowerment

You may have to talk yourself down from doing something that’s irreversible. Do what it takes. Self-help books, empowerment videos, nature walks, find something. Do something that isn’t self-sabotaging and feels good in your soul. I keep it real when I write because many people appreciate transparency when we’re talking about transformation.

I was messed up and going through a divorce when my therapist assigned homework.
“I don’t usually tell patients to do this, but in your case, I’m making an exception. I want you to look in the mirror and say, “I Love You!” I had to do it three times a day. At first, it was awkward. I felt like I was stuck on myself like I thought I was “all that and a bag of chips.”

I even winked at the smiling woman staring back at me in the mirror. The exercise was successful in boosting my confidence. Don’t ever underestimate the power of self-acceptance.

Appreciate and Love of Self

In keeping with that momentum, I also hold an “Imani Appreciation Day!” A monthly celebration which I’ve maintained since my first encounter with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, in 1999. My special appreciation days are about spending solo time doing what I want to do. They’re intentional acts of practicing self-love and don’t cost a fortune, as I’m far from a baller. I have a budget of $25 to $30. I hit the Farmer’s Market, a free outdoor concert or somewhere else artsy where vendors have funky jewelry, or I take my journal and find some water where I sit and write.

More On Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way

The course and book are true life changers,and I hope you’ll check it out and get some of that good energy. I’ve taken the course and I’ve taught it. I continue to refer back to it when I feel depression coming on, or I experience writer’s block. As an author and healing arts therapist, Cameron gets in your face. Either you will get real with the reading and activities which all push towards self-care and self-love, or you toss the book.

Appreciate, and Love on Yourself

The Artist’s Way, is rewarding to do as a solo course, but it’s also very cool to do with a group of folks who are trying to be and live better. We hold each other accountable. You learn about yourself and your fellow classmates over the 8-12 week course. More importantly, you can see your growth from the inside out. Situations requiring forgiveness often cause trauma, and writing through trauma, is a good path to healing.

Give Yourself The Gift of Forgiveness

The gold star is always, “Self-love”.
Forgiveness is what keeps love turning in the world. Agape love, the kind that we’re supposed to have toward each other is expressed most vividly when forgiveness is given. Self-love is when we turn our beef with others into a lesson learned. Yes, it’s about
being the bigger person sometimes. Other times, it’s about freedom. Giving forgiveness humbles us while giving us peace of mind. Forgiveness is mystic in that way. It brings inner peace, which feeds self-love. Karma, has your back, too. Chill.

In truth, the journey to self-love is a spiritual thing. It’s personal. Think of the caterpillar that over time morphs into a beautiful butterfly. Forgiveness allows us a chance to shed old skin that no longer serves as well, and become this other thing of beauty that exudes love. The sentiment that, “We forgive others more for ourselves than the person who hurt us”, is a good type of selfish.”

You Can Plan A Pretty Picnic, But You Can’t Predict The Weather

We either figure out how to get through life’s drama that can pop off at any moment, or we become prey for those who seek out a weakness in others and pounce. Their bad day doesn’t have to be yours. Pre-Internet, if we had words with someone in a public space, it was likely to stay between the parties involved. Today, the interaction will be videotaped and you may find yourself on WorldStar facing criticism from keyboard warriors, whether you were right or wrong.Trust me, you don’t need that.

Self-love Dictates How We Handle Situations.

A lot of people are hurting and this creates an atmosphere of fear in the world. They haven’t done the work. The workaround is to stay on top of your square. It’s about practice, consistency, and staying true to self.

Forgiveness of Self and Others Are Both Needed for Self-Love to Blossom

Hang in there, there’s more. Setbacks happen because self-work is hard. Right? Damn, skippy it is, but you’re investing in self, and there’s no greater cause. Celebrate the good days, know your triggers so you can respond in love.

I don’t care who you are. We carry shame around from the past for things we’ve done, and even for things that may have been out of our control as children. Be gentle with yourself, and kind to your inner child on this journey. Writer him/her a letter and let them know that you’re really working on being your best self and that you’ll do your best to protect yourself now. The art of forgiveness and self-love can be yours. You’ll fly lighter and be less stressed.

Stay the Course, It’s Worth It

Be encouraged, you can do this. Focus on self. Even with life’s drama and mistakes, you’re older and wiser and you’re recognizing your voice. Congratulations. You’re setting the stage for your #glowup of self-love, using forgiveness as a backdrop for your inner peace.

Copyright 2018 by C. Imani Williams. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Sex On The Table: Decoding Black Sexual Politics’ by C. Imani Williams

Black Sexual Politics, have the Black community in a quandary. We’re not sure how to manage some very serious conversations that need to be held in the village. I maintain that many of our struggles over relationships and interpersonal communication stems largely from not having had a collective conversation since slavery ended.

Black People Are Survivors, White Supremacists Hate It
It’s painful to think about the horrors our ancestors lived through with no agency over what happened to their physical bodies. The sexual degradation they faced every single day included the unthinkable. Sons forced to have sex with their Mothers, Fathers unable to keep slave owners from repeatedly raping their wives and daughters. While Black babies born out of rape were not acknowledged by their rapey ass fathers, they also caught hell from white mistresses, torn between their husbands proof of infidelity with enslaved Black women, and their hypersexualization and straight out thirst for Black men.

Revelations Found In Mandingo
As a twelve-year-old, I read Kyle Onstotts’ Antebellum fiction classic, Mandingo, when it hit me where the word “Muthafucka,” I sprinkled conversations with when adults weren’t around, came from. That that word explained what happened between mothers and sons in the book, Mandingo was set in 1857 and can also be categorized as historical fiction that told horrors of sheer evil. Making the connection made me blue. An avid reader, it took me some time to finish the book. I wasn’t allowed to see the movie and had to catch it on VHS as an adult.

Faith, Love, and Sex
Major amounts of wrong were heaped on our people, and we haven’t had a break from white supremacy to heal. With each sexual revolution, (if that’s what we’re in right now), new ideas and expressions are introduced, and old school games get a makeover. The $25 engagement ring debate broke the Internet. While the beauty of honoring traditions like jumping the broom, during wedding ceremonies and its history takes a back seat to clicks and likes. Which brings us to 2018 where community staples – the Black Church, and Black Respectability Politics continue to thrive.

Strong Roots
The world is ever-changing. Staples of yesteryear lessen unless the roots are maintained. Family structures have changed quite a deal. Wouldn’t you agree? Not everyone is Christian which some Black people take offense to, and some religions are more oppressive to women than others. Our story didn’t begin with Christianity, we would do well to remember the ancestor’s way. Religion kind of leaves the door open for judgment unless everyone is of like mind. Regardless of race queers are a minority, and the Black community holds onto a deep disdain for Black Homosexuality. Maybe, embracing spirituality and love would be helpful, while we figure things out.

Male Toxicity Is Dangerous For Everyone
Male toxicity is a curiously dangerous thing. It throws shade and sheer hate towards hetero women, queer women, and especially trans women. It both pokes fun at and threatens male homosexuality. A social construct born out narcissism, male toxicity is so potent that some women support it. With some cis women standing with Black men in denouncing queers and their right to be. Rape apologists are sometimes women protecting men and or the image of men they hold on to. Tragic.

Black people remain behind the 8-ball on many sexuality issues. Call it self-censoring, unless it pertains to satisfying the needs of cis men. We’re more conservative than not, despite the Mandingo and Jezebel stereotypes that exist. There is so much cross-dissension between hetero women and men that queer issues don’t get addressed readily.

When Black queers are diminished to punch lines of jokes, it equates regulating queer folk to the children’s table during holiday dinners. Concerns and pleas to be accepted as part of the community and the adult table are rarely granted. Kids are told to “Sit there with your cousins,” and “Don’t move from that table!” Kids get full for sure, but the children’s table fare never looks as good as the food on the grown-up table. Feel me or not there’s truth to it.

We Are Family!
Black trans women are part of our family. The hospice nurse who cared for my father as he transitioned wasn’t Black but she was a trans woman who carried herself professionally and was one hell of an R.N. Trans women are getting a lot of buzz right now over who they are and their right to hold space. Laverne Cox is a one-woman show serving as PR professional, Activist, Artist, and Speaker of Truth. Trans women are getting more network media roles than lesbians and using the opportunity to advocate for trans rights and sharing the stories of transphobia and discrimination faced by the trans community.

As long as trans women stay “over there,” it’s out of sight out, of mind. You saw “The Crying Game,” and we all struggled with Forest Whitaker’s character as he went through the process of dealing with falling for a trans girl who stole his heart. That’s a movie. In real life, trans women are being murdered. Spelman College will be in the news for a good minute when the prestigious all women Atlanta HBCU, formally admits Trans co-eds this September. It’s an all women space, and a huge move where Black Respectability Politics reign, with a lot of generational legacies and traditions. The governing body of the Divine Nine, known as the Pan- Hellenic Council, has been real quiet. The lion will awaken soon. Hopefully, Spelman administration and Board of Directors are preparing for the good fight. It’s epic.

Fear, Hate, and Black Male Fragility
Once things blow over at Spelman, other HBCU’s will follow suit in breaking down barriers to Black education. We’re going to have to get a handle on male toxicity. From reports and hood gossip, it appears that Black men are responsible for the string of “convenient” murders when they learn their love interest was born a boy. Which begs the question, when is the right time for trans women to disclose that they were not born girls? I think that even those with fragile egos deserve the right to provide a “yes or no,” and to turn down sex if the person is not their cup of tea. Communication is key, and we’re ignoring that fact across the board.

Debating the Disclosure Window
Today’s dating world handles the art of sharing information through texting and hookups. Should trans women disclose through Snapchat or whenever someone slides into a DM on social media, just because someone shows up? I think not. It can be argued, that when married people cheat they should be honest about their status, giving people a chance to decline. Surprise outings can and do lead to violence. It’s possible that disclosure at any point will drive a fragile-minded person to react violently. Regardless, they have a right to know, and safety for trans women and cis women alike is a concern. Both are true.

The Debates Continue As More Trans Women are Murdered
When male toxicity and homophobia are present, it’s neither emotionally or physically safe for trans women to disclose at any point, or for cis men to have friendships or be attracted sexually to trans women. There’s a silent rift between Black cis and trans women, and lesbians and trans women also have their issues. Black people must come to the realization as marginalized and disenfranchised folks, that Black Liberation has to include the entire Black family.

Bottom Line: We Gotta Do Better By One Another
Social media can be beaten like a drum to address issues and find solutions. Addressing Black Sexual Politics is part of the journey in reclaiming our villages. It’s also a multi-generational discussion. If not us then who, and if not now, when?

Copyright 2017 by C Imani Williams. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘A Testimony of Faith and Gratitude’ by C. Imani Williams

“Stop the Nonsense, and Get. Your. Life” is the title of the podcast I did for Bon Bon Break in 2015. A motivational essay turned podcast (new format for me), that made the cut. The message was for me as much as any (Wo)man going, through. When I thought about my testimony today, I didn’t know if I would write a poem, or stick to my usual essay. If you’ve read my book, Reflections Of A Survivor (arranged by Melony HIll), and co-written with five other courageous and conscious writers, you know my journey over the last seven years.

Applying The Lessons
I believed in what I was saying in “Get Your Life.” I was struggling financially and battling depression on a regular basis. But, I had to hang on and know in the depths of my spirit, that if I did what my mother wrote on her deathbed, that I would be okay. “Trust, God!” Her mantra, even as she accepted that her days were numbered on this plane. During my earnest talks with my “Cool Cat,” Daddy explained again, that he made no move to the right, to the left, in front, or behind, without checking in with his Father. A Libra, he balanced things out studiously, before making a decision. The need to practice self-care while parenting myself, and missing my parents is Daddy’s patient spirit showing up to remind me of the necessity of patience. Oh, I’ve learned how to get quiet and listen. Solitude will do that. I got real clear on a lot of things.

Joybells and Gratitude
I proclaim Joybells today. They’re ringing. I will regain doing work I absolutely love, work, that is necessary in my ask of the Creator, to make me of service to community. I want to use my gifts that I know will fulfill my promise to self, to leave this world a better place than I found it.

I’m celebrating, a new opportunity to return love to a community that has enriched my life in so many ways. In all reality, they helped save my life. The. Black. Queer. Community. To the Black Lesbian Community in Los Angeles, and Long Beach, CA, I love you. To my Lil SisTars in Oakland, I love you. To my SisTars in the Detroit Black Lesbian and Arts Community, I love you. To my str8 fam. Queens, I love you. If you’ve stayed this long, heck, you have stories to tell of your own. To my TN SisTars, I’m going to introduce you. I shan’t be selfish.

You all provided salve, for a weary mind and soul. You housed me, fed me, listened and loved on me as I fought to survive. As SisTars, you loved me thicker than blood and continue too. What a blessing for this Detroit born free spirit who was indeed, broken. Broken hearted and the whole nine. Thank you.

Writing Connections
To my Writers-Black Art Connected family. What a mighty long way we’ve come together. I do know we’re going to meet in person. And. It’s going to be lit. We’ve experienced life, death, illnesses, homelessness, and the desire to keep writing. Real. Talk. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to write and grow with so many beautiful creatives across the Diaspora. Connecting with my SisTars here in Las Vegas, is everything. I love ya’ll and what you’re doing is next level. Please understand how full my heart is. Truth. Fam. I’m waiting on the first WBAC wedding. I make couples in my mind all the time. I feel a poem coming on and maybe; a short story, starring you! I love ya’ll. #writeon #8KStrongBlackWriters

Recognizing Gifts
This testimony is also full of gratitude for staying true to my path. It’s been hard. Today I give thanks standing on my purpose. Raising awareness around Mental Health, including Domestic Violence and Childhood Sexual Abuse are my calling. I’m degreed by life and academia. I’m a real deal subject matter expert. I accepted a job offer with a Behavioral Health company here in Las Vegas. I will serve as the LGBT Program Coordinator.

It’s in alignment with the Sex On The Table events I co-host in Detroit where we make intentional space for co-gendered evenings of communication and dialogue. These events have been held with diverse participants and representation across the sexual continuum.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
I never stop talking about the conversations we need to have, haven’t ever had, since slavery ended. We have to first be willing to talk about the issues plaguing Black communities. Openly and honestly. There is so much healing that needs to take place. As a Healing Artist, I think we have to be gentle with ourselves and others throughout this process.

Across social media and in the real world (sometimes the lines blur), we aren’t being respectful to one another. Across the board. The babies are always watching. If you’re grappling with “everything is about being gay! Why?” Let’s talk about it. I return to the work I left formally over a decade ago, but never really left. I can’t break off the queer part of myself, nor do I choose to.

Restoration Through Service
Being a celibate queer bi-attracted woman gives me a special vantage point into, Black Sexual Politics. To do the work full-time is humbling (it points to the need), and rewarding. I live for outreach and connecting people to affordable and accessible resources. I enjoy gathering and writing our stories. So much of what we have gifted the world through Black experiences goes unwritten, and is eventually, forgotten. I say, no to all of that. A studious researcher, I’m archiving #BlackHistory. I know the worth of that. I got my life, and am ringing my joybells loudly and fiercely, with purpose.

Peace, Love, and Blessings,
~Imani #UrbanBushSista
https://www.instagram.com/imaniizlove/
#BlackWomensLivesMatter
#BlackLivesMatter
#BlackTransWomensLivesMatter

Copyright 2017 by C Imani Williams. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

Featured Image Via Tiffany Dillard

‘Why Girl Code Matters’ by C. Imani Williams

I’ve got stories. Girl Code matters. Simply put, it’s the art and tradition of women looking out for each other. There should never be a time it isn’t employed. Sisterhood is about unity and solidarity. It’s about having your sister’s back and not accepting, tolerating, or promoting misogynistic behavior. I don’t care how badly you like seeing your friend smiling and happy because her heart and punany are turned up. Even if she’s married sh*t can go awry. Maintaining Girl Code keeps you in the loop and may help keep her safe should life get crazy. There are guidelines to sisterhood, and the recent and untimely death of Kaneeka Jenkins,19, of Rosemont, Illinois, means we need to revisit the rules.

Kaneeka’s Death Was Preventable
We still don’t know what happened or how Kaneeka ended up in the basement of a hotel where she was celebrating landing a new job with friends. Her body was found frozen in a hotel walk-in freezer almost 24 hours after she attended the party. Hotel video shows that she was severely impaired. The FBI has elected not to pursue her death, and people are making memes about the tragedy. Kaneeka deserves justice. Shame on people. If we learn anything from this senseless loss of life, let it be—that we do our best to protect those we care about and love.

Sister, We’re Two Of A Kind
It’s been said that a special place in hell is reserved for women who won’t help other women. This is true and precisely why Girl Code matters. The covenant of sisterhood should start early. Back in the day, young women venturing out into the dating world were encouraged to always keep “mad money” on hand. A dime in a penny loafer or a coin purse ensured car fare or a phone call home. It’s a bad idea to meet up with people you’ve met online and know nothing about. So, slow your roll. There’s time connect after a few phone conversations and you’ve done some background digging Right? All that glitters is not gold.

A rite of passage into dating should include mandatory Girl Code. A must-do list that needs to be followed to help ensure safety when mingling with the opposite sex. I’ll add, that unsavory situations pop off in same-sex settings as well. This is not specific to clubs and bars either.

Many times, sexual assault takes place at in-home functions. Casual get-togethers and open-house parties both present opportunities to get caught up in madness.

College Coeds Should Practice Girl Code

Sexual assaults on the campus of colleges continue to raise concerns as they are often slow to investigate, and quick to re-victimize women who suffer assault, in an environment where they should be safe. Too often, affluent student and athletes receive a slap on the wrist for rape and assault. Female co-eds have been victimized by school administration and shamed on social media for coming forward about an assault. Whether it’s a campus party, a house party in the hood, or on the cruise you’ve waited eight months to take, Girl Code needs to be in place.

We Come Together, We Leave Together
Form a pack and hold each other accountable. There’s no dipping out with the fine A. F. the person standing in front of you, making your panties wet. Get a phone number. Nope, you can’t stay there with the cutie if we decide to bounce. Take a picture and get a number. You’re leaving with the crew you came in with. Bathroom room runs require pairs. Besides, we like going with a friend anyway.

Tricks Are For Kids
The presence of alcohol makes it easy for fuck boys and narcissistic women to have fun at the expense of others. You’ve seen a Lifetime movie or two. In a nutshell, watch your drink. It’s so easy to slip something into a glass in public spaces. Big Mama, yours and mine both, always made the drink rules clear. Don’t accept one from strangers, don’t drink it if you didn’t see it poured, and once you walk away to the ladies room or dance floor, it’s a wrap. Don’t lift that glass back up to your lips. I don’t care who’s supposed to be watching it, people have short attention spans. Even if cost twenty bucks, or was free. Even if it’s just juice. Leave it.

Alcohol will pretend to be your friend and can give a generally reserved person, “girl of the hour” courage. It lowers inhibitions and can make you feel fabulous and then take you to lowest of lows. Turned up, sexual inhibitions can drop. Fun flirting with the cutie across the room can lead to conversations that turn into physical pleasure, real fast. Most of us have been there.

Designated Drivers, One Person Not Faded
Everybody can’t turn up. Decide on a designated driver before going out. Even if you Uber, at least one person has to be alert. Yes, it’s that serious. Safety reasons present again. In a society where rape culture and misogyny are common and over 64,000 Black women are missing in the U.S., we can’t risk losing another person. Girl Code matters because rape and human trafficking are sad realities.

Adjust Your Crown
Girl Code dictates that women stand for and with each other. Fighting patriarchy, and refusing to be treated as lesser than, are born rights. We have to demand respect from men. Girls, need to know that they have a voice. Boys need to learn respect of women early. Calling a girl a thot and pulling her hair in third grade is not okay. We have to stop brushing those “kids will be kids” moments off. Not addressing it tells a girl that she is not valuable.

The thing is, we’re all valuable. I don’t care how muddy your shoes got while you were in the storm getting the lesson. You’re not alone. Value and honor sisterhood. Let’s entrust each other to stand for that which makes us stronger, and more fierce. The tighter the squad, the higher we can fly. Girl code matters and true sisterhood is priceless.

Copyright 2017 by C. Imani Wiliams. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Burial’ by Art Metzger

When Alice wakes up everything is dark. She is lying, stretched out, on something soft, and there is softness all around her, close. There is also softness above her. She can’t see it, but she knows it is there. She remembers flowers and organ music. People are filing by her, she can’t see them, but she senses they are there. Nor does she really smell the flowers, hear the music.

It occurs to her, lying flat in total silent darkness, imprisoned, that perhaps she is dead. Alice has no memory of dying, of being dead. She doesn’t know what might have happened – automobile accident, heart attack, a disease, but she knows she is dead. There is no other explanation, though she cannot explain her continued consciousness. Is it going to be like this forever, leaving her trapped, buried in a coffin? Or is she wrong? Has she been buried alive? She needs out. She doesn’t know how long she has been trapped here in the darkness, but she can’t allow it to go on. She can’t imagine it going on. She begins to struggle. She begins to scream. And scream.

Alice doesn’t know how long the screaming goes on, struggling and thrashing in the tiny space, but eventually she starts to calm down. She remembers a movie she saw several years before in which a girl, recently buried, suddenly reached a hand up through the graveyard dirt. Everyone in the theater jumped, there were several squeals, a few people screamed. So, she wonders, how did the girl do that? Had she be buried, not only alive, but coffinless, just lowered into a hole in the ground and covered up? Or did coffins have a weak spot that the girl had managed to penetrate, allowing a stream of dirt to rain in until she could force her hand upward, through it, into the light? Alice feels around above her; with her nails she manages to tear the fabric above her, shredding until she feels wood. Then she begins to pound as much as the crowded space will allow. She does this for hours, days, perhaps months. She rests occasionally, then begins again. Finally, lifetimes later, she feels something start to give. She pounds and pushes and suddenly a thin trickle of dirt begins to fall around her. Pushing, up and up, knowing escape from her prison was imminent. Pushing, clawing, resting, then pushing and clawing some more. Dirt cakes under her nails, falls on her face and breasts. She begins to wonder if the coffin was simply going to fill with dirt, leaving her even worse off than before – double buried. She wonders if she should stop for awhile, then she feels her hand burst through into warm sunlight. She flexes her fingers, moves her hand back and forth, waving. Through the earth she hears the people above her screaming; she feels the vibrations of running feet. She tries to wave them back, a single hand beckoning. But no one turns, no one comes back. It is then that Alice begins to wish that she had learned sign language.

Copyright 2017 by Art Metzger. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Club Heaven’ by C. Imani Williams

I was solo as I entered Heaven, an after hour gay dance spot on the northeast side of Detroit, MI. A rare find in a city that didn’t offer much to the black gay, and trans populations. Totally closeted I hadn’t approached anyone about where Black lesbians hung out.

Heaven was a cultural gem that stayed under the radar.

Creating Community

Folk don’t give too much of a fuck about Black gay folks today. In the late 70s they sure weren’t dealing with the “funny faggot” issue. The Black power era was not inclusive of all its brothers, and embraced even fewer sisters. By 1992, Heaven was a staple for Detroit Black queers, who enjoyed the sanctuary of a “for us” space.

Seeking Safe Space

I was quietly bi-curious and Heaven was a place for me to check things out. Anonymously. I always went alone, with the exception of a couple of times, when I left  a straight house party in search of more music with a str8 friend, who was used to queer crowds.  Her dude was a house dee jay. I doubt if any other of my str8 crew would have accompanied me. I felt like a spy on a queer ass mission.

I Needed Heaven

The music was an aphrodisiac, House does something to me. It’s spiritual. I get high off the rhythm; I ride that bitch, no alcohol needed. Back when Heaven was open, I was still drinking, especially if I was partying. The fact that I’m an alcoholic hadn’t quite kicked in yet. With thirteen years of sobriety I look back on that time and see a lot of places where I was overly confident and sometimes just plain foolish.

This night though, I was full. Not drunk, but still floating from the music and the long island iced tea I’d had earlier. For five dollars you could dance at Heaven from two am till five thirty. Sometimes, the music played longer and daylight was on the horizon when patrons exited the club. I’d decided before heading out that evening that I was going to ask someone to dance. I didn’t’ know the protocol.

No Facebook Live To Capture The Vibe

As I walked in the walls were sweating from the energy in the room. Queens walked around dressed in miniskirts and six-inch stilettos. Others opted for platforms. Faces beat, in all that heat. There was a party going on!  The music was hyped and folk were taking up every inch of space.

As usual there were not many women in the house. By women, I mean lesbians. There were a few but mostly the crowd was gay and trans. This was their spot and I was grateful to be allowed to enter such a sacred space.

I Watched With My Heart

As I took in my surroundings a young male couple hugged in front of me. I guessed them to be in their late teens. They were all over each other, as if the days between meeting at Heaven had depleted them, and this was their opportunity to breathe again. They kissed, as the shorter one pulled the taller one back into him as he leaned into the wall. I watched them feeling all kinds of things.  I noted to myself that there was nothing wrong with feeling that way about another human being. Their passion was intense. I’d heard of people fucking through songs on the low. They weren’t that deep but they were close. He turned his man around and made him claw the wall he’d so eagerly backed into. I was digging it.

Well, Hello!

I looked up and saw “her”.  A couple of inches shorter than me, me she stood about 5’2” and had curly hair. Somebody with Indian blood was close in her family line. Deep dimples dotted her chocolate skin as she smiled chatting with the woman next to her. She was working her jeans and her Guess fitted tee, very nicely.  I didn’t know if they were a couple but I was feeling the music and decided, that I was going to make my move soon. Generally you don’t ask someone to dance at a House spot. Everyone is on their own thing. Dancing alone, partnered, and in groups. But I didn’t know the etiquette rules for bi curious folk.

There was a lot of good feeling going on. Drag Queens on platforms dancing sexy above everyone on the dance floor. The fog machines were pumping as people danced under the many strobe lights.

Heaven Made Me Feel Free

You could literally feel the stress of living black and queer in a pro-hetero, homophobic, community falling off through the hypnotic music. It helped folk deal the constant racism and oppression of a straight thinking community. Layers of bullshit were removed at Heaven on a weekly basis. It was a spot where black queers found acceptance and nothing but love.

Thank you, Ken Collier

DJ Ken Collier brought his musical gifts opening the door for many Detroit House deejays. He inspired and groomed Detroit mix masters both women and men who have made huge names for themselves, with thirty plus years on the tables. Detroit’s “Godfather of House” Collier defined entrepreneurship in the arts for an underground movement that pushed through to become a genre staple for across the world.  Respected until his passing in 1995 for bringing some peace and good time to people who deserved a break, even if, it was only once or twice a week.

Understanding this, I over stood the passion of the two young men slobbing each other down, and feeling each other up as if their lives depended on it. It did. As for me, I got that dance and Dimple’s phone number.  

Copyright 2017 by C Imani Williams. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Smoke Celebrations’ by Jostein Wolff

“I stumbled out of bed
I got ready for the struggle
I smoked a cigarette…”
Leonard Cohen

The three of them have been inseparable for a long time. They have been best friends since elementary school.

Anna made the decision. Alex took the initiative. They have tried many ways to convince Milena to give up smoking but all proved a failure. They discussed her deteriorating health, they talked about the rising prices of cigarettes, but Milena seemed too addicted to quit. She insisted on being careless with time. Her time on earth.

Anna is the formal kind of person. A dirty job indeed, but somebody’s got to do it. Especially in a company of three, in which no other is willing to take the responsibility. On the day Leonard Cohen died, she felt the need to make a formal statement on the social media. She took herself too seriously to not comment on such a serious event.

“R.I.P. great poet,” she wrote in all formality.

On the other hand, Milena suffered in silence. She’s the invisible type. She spent some hours smoking, in front of the screen, watching the posts, the comments, yet she did not participate, or interact in any way with anyone on her friends’ list.

“I’ll talk to the guy who owns the shop downstairs. That’s where she usually goes.” Alex was sure that their plan would work.

“We’ll have to find every shop in the neighborhood and inform them,” insisted Anna, arranging her hair in the mirror.

“You’re probably right. Still, I’m certain she will be too bored to go far. Just the closest places will be enough.”

“Do not underestimate the power of addiction.”

On the day Leonard Cohen died, Alex uploaded many of his songs in a few moments. He would have uploaded more, if he hadn’t had to go to work. He, too, spends most of his free time on the internet, commenting on every subject he finds interesting, without second thoughts.

Alex is the impulsive type. Without him boredom would prevail among them. He is the spark, initiating fires, when routine gets tiring.

“Next time she comes for a pack, talk to her as much as possible,” Alex told the guy in the store.

“I don’t get it,” answered the man. “But I will do it if you think it’s necessary.”

Milena is desperate for a smoke. She goes down and asks for a pack.

“So, how’s life going?”

“It’s ok,” she answered, avoiding eye contact, to end the conversation quickly.

“The prices have gone up. How do you get by?”

“I still can handle it.” She had not realized the man knew her. Perhaps it was time she changed her habits. She should buy her cigarettes somewhere else, where people did not know her well enough to engage in small talk.

A few days later, she had already visited most of the stores in the neighborhood, having faced the same reactions.

All shopkeepers seemed in the mood for small talk. Milena hates small talk. She has always been the introvert in an otherwise extroverted company.

Anna, in her best dress, is ready for a night out. Milena wants to stay in. She has run out of smoke again, yet her options are limited. She could either visit one of the closest stores, which seems a nightmare to her, considering the conversations she will have to get herself into, or drive to the next town, where her face is still unfamiliar.

“Have fun,” she tells her friend, having decided to sleep early.

“You should quit smoking,” says Anna, in her formal voice, as if she is talking in front of a camera.

“I don’t want to, yet I think I will.”

“I know.”

“You know what?”

“You hate small talk, you hate going far, it seems you have no option,” Alex said in enthusiasm.

Milena unfriended both of them. Both in life and social media. It was an easy choice. She chose addiction.

Manipulation is the end result of formality along with poor impulse control, she concluded. She set fire on their friendship and used the flame to light a cigarette.

She moved to another city and threw away her old phone. Leonard Cohen started smoking again when he turned eighty.

Two years later, he died. She was already eighty four. Determined to be carefree with her time. Determined to celebrate the rest of her time on earth, in smoke.

Copyright 2017 by Jostein Wolff. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Over-Reacted’ by Gloria Christie

She had invisible sharpened cat claws that scratched me bloody. I had known her for every moment of her life, and still…I can see her wicked smile every time she hit a vein. Oh, sure, she was the favorite one. The one who wouldn’t eat even as our mother begged, but the one who was adored for her small size as Mom called me that ugly, disgusting word –“big”. The one who got the permanented curls while I got the butchered bangs.

Yes, I was jealous. Of course, how could I not? And she knew it. I can see her inside of my mind, standing in our mother’s shadow. That smile as she watched Mom take anger out on my psyche. That smile as she feigned a headache, and I was handed her chores.

Mom handed out the labels that I squeezed myself into. I was the smart, big one. She was the petite popular one. That meant I had to be the clodhopper hiding in the corners of solitude with saddened eyes, afraid to step out, while she had countless friends and countless good times.

She had invisible sharpened cat claws that left me shredded, even though she was not as smart as me – Mom said. Each claw had a honing instinct that reached deeply into the spot that would hurt the most. Yet, any retribution was forbidden. It was my job to accept the abuse even as it drained my life blood of self.

She got what she wanted or else she took her teenage tantrum self to her car and hit the speedometer, breaking ninety and more. Once, I talked back, and Mom slapped my face. The humiliation stung worse than the pain.

At a time when I was counting out slices of bread at college, paid in full by my years-round job, Mom was buying her a house. I was jealous with the anger than simmered always, its stench unbidden.

Distance has its advantages, yet she reached across my self-imposed crevice and tried to get the federal government to invite me into their cells for punishment of an uncommitted crime, one never even considered. She reached across the canyon of my separation to get a restraining order barring me from our father’s hospital bed. Why? “Because I like to.”

She called my largest contractor repeatedly unbeknownst to me, causing them to pull away from my “unstable” business, which fell into the space between us, crashing on the rocks of her entertainment.

After a surgery, so needed a cane to walk, but refused. They found her lying on the sidewalk unable to rise. A concussion. “Use a cane for stability”, others urged. But no, she did not want to, always did what she wanted, and so she did not.

She fell again. Another concussion and two black eyes. And she fell again, another concussion. This time with convulsions. Another fall, and now there was brain damage.

She lost her short-term memory, but her short-fuse anger remained. Furious with me for imagined slights, “pissed off” and not speaking, which was a normal state of being, the two of us, and one I rather relished. Then, the text.

“I over-reacted.”

Two words, an apology that verged on the miraculous. And then, my world as I defined it in relationship with her shifted. The past tense had a new context, one that felt strange in my mouth. Now, I must feel my way in the darkness of this newness, of the formerly cat clawed person brain damage had shaped into something neoteric.

Copyright 2017 by Gloria Christie. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.