MAKING HER WAY: Talking Black Actress, Diversity, & The Creative Process With Andrea Lewis

Black-Actress-Andrea-Lewis

When you’re a young Black woman in Canada, there’s nothing like seeing another young Black woman from Canada doing her thing. There’s a pride in watching someone’s trajectory as they blaze a trail from the streets and neighbourhoods you share to corners of the world you haven’t touched yet – and there’s a comfort in feeling like that trailblazer hasn’t forgotten where they’ve come from.

Andrea Lewis is one of these trailblazing, young + Black + Canadian women. After roles in The Natalie Cole Story, Down In The Delta, and her starring role as Hazel on Degrassi: The Next Generation – and after also releasing two albums – Lewis has ventured into a new realm as a digital content creator with her webseries Black Actress and her production company Jungle Wild Productions. Backed by powerhouses like Issa Rae, Tatyana Ali, and Essence Atkins, Lewis’ Black Actress webseries has carved a lane in telling the stories of Black actresses determined to make it – through intros from women like Jenifer Lewis, Amber Riley, Garcelle Beauvais and more, and through the journey of Kori, our thespian heroine played by Lewis.

In an effort to make a way for other artists and other stories, Lewis has launched Jungle Wild Productions, featuring “a collective of young, talented, content creators who are focused on producing a new generation of original television, film, and digital content that showcases women, people of color, and the LGBT community.”

I first reached out to Andrea when I was planning my Mirror Images event last year. We recently met, and finally got to connect names/email addresses to faces. Now, I’m able to share her story with you all – read on to learn more about her journey, and find out how you can help in the Black Actress/Jungle Wild Productions takeover!

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B: As a singer and actress, when did you realize that entertainment was your calling?

A: I knew from a very young age that entertainment and the arts were my passion. I don’t remember a day where I couldn’t sing lol and I started doing commercials on TV when I was two years old. I was very blessed to be put into the right place at the right time to foster my talents.

B: What led you to create the Black Actress webseries?

A:  I came up with the idea for Black Actress after an experience I had while filming a movie in Vancouver, and my cast mate introduced me as “Andrea the urban one”. It was a very strange and awkward moment that let me realize he saw me the same way the script saw me and it was just as “the black girl”. From there I knew I had to create something that told the story of a woman of color pursuing the ups and downs of acting and chasing her dreams. Something that showed us just like everyone else. 

B: You explore a lot of themes through the character of Kori that are relatable to many Black women, whether or not they’re aiming for stardom. Kori seems so sure of herself at certain points, then seems painfully insecure. What do you want viewers to get from Kori’s flaws, failures, and successes? 

A: I think Kori represents the inner dialogue of insecurity. I want viewers to see a bit of themselves when they watch Kori. I wrote her based on a time in my life when I was very insecure and unsure of myself all while still pursuing my dreams and I just had to find my way through it. I hope to inspire everyone watching who may suffer from the same insecurities as Kori, to get out of their own way.   

B: Where did the name of your production company “Jungle Wild” come from? 

A: One of the definitions of “wild” is “unrestrained” and this is simply the way I live my life – I don’t want anything to hold me back, especially not myself. I came up with the name “Jungle Wild” because it makes me feel like that, like nothing can hold me back right now because I’m taking control of the wild nature of this business- aka the jungle – and making it my own, without any restraints. 

B: You’re gearing up to produce a few new series on Jungle Wild like “Beyond Complicated,” “Fuel,” and “Married.” What are the kinds of stories you want to tell through your production company? 

A: I’m so excited for the shows that we have coming this year! I’m working very hard at telling diverse stories that represent the voice of millennials. 

B: If someone wants to venture into vlogging or creating a webseries, what are 3 tips you’d give them? 

A: Build a great team of people to help you and who understand your vision. Write what you know and just do it! 

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B: You clearly embrace and showcase your Caribbean heritage in Black Actress. Being a Black, Canadian, Caribbean woman, do these different layers colour your perception of being an actress in the U.S.? 

A: Yes, I’m a West Indian Canadian and that’s a very different experience from being an African American, but I grew up watching African Americans on TV and that was my example of people of color on screen and seeing images of people who looked like me. US culture is different from Canadian culture but I am able to pull from all of my experiences in Canada and living in the US as a Black Canadian to have a unique approach to my career and the stories I choose to tell in my writing. 

B: You recently took part in a ColorOfChange.com campaign urging the Academy to disclose their numbers on diversity after what was deemed “the Whitest Oscars ever.” From your view inside the industry, what positive moves are being made to increase diversity, and what’s still lacking? 

A: Little strides are being made. Hollywood is still a predominantly white male business but the president of the Academy – Cheryl Boone Issacs – is the first Black president and she’s a woman. Despite what we saw this year, she is working on bringing diversity to the Oscars. I think we’re seeing bigger strides in television, with the amount of Black female leads and Black showrunners and directors that are doing amazing work. I’m extremely optimistic though, as disappointing as it was to see the lack of diversity in the Oscars this year, I’m still very hopeful next year and the year after that will be different. 

B: Amid all the concerns of competition among Black women, it’s so affirming to see the support you have through Issa Rae, Tatyana Ali, and Essence Atkins – never mind the presence of all the featured actresses who give their words of wisdom in each episode of Black Actress. What has that support done for you, both professionally and personally? 

A: The support has been awesome! These women are my friends and my peers and I couldn’t ask for more with all of the support they’ve given me, my vision and the show. I always saw the show in this way and I knew that once I started telling people about it that the support would be there, because the story is positive. 

B: What have you learned about yourself throughout the process of creating Black Actress/Jungle Wild?

A: Black Actress is a huge project and it takes a lot of people, time and parts to make it work. I’m very grateful for my producing partner Brian Walker who’s been with me through this process. But through all of this I’ve learned that I’m capable of doing anything I want.

 

Black Actress is in its second season – you can catch Kori’s ups and downs (including features from Tristan Wilds, Reagan Gomez, Franchesca Ramsey and more) here! Lewis and team are in the homestretch of a Kickstarter campaign to help with production and distribution of S2 and S3 of Black Actress, so if you like what you see, donate!

FULL OF YOURSELF: The Audacity of Self-Confidence

 

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“You can’t wake up looking for the recession.” – Jenifer Lewis

While doing some research, I came across an episode of Black Actress featuring the incomparable Jenifer Lewis. As soon as I heard that quote, I internalized it in a way that told me something I needed to hear that day: “Bee – stop looking at the things you lack. Stop claiming your deficits and ignoring your gifts.” It’s easy to fall into a self-confidence recession, and sometimes I have to ensure that I don’t fall into that hole.

There’s an air of audacity around self-confidence in women. From birth, it’s drilled into us that it’s more noble to minimize compliments and to not toot our own horns. We’re taught that it’s preferable to be more sugar than spice. We try to embody “everything nice” until we see that the jig is up – “everything nice” usually serves others at our expense, and that realization sometimes comes too late. To buck those trends – to accept compliments, to celebrate ourselves, to stop worrying about being nice and start busying ourselves with being authentic –  breaks the mold of what “good girls” do, thereby fragmenting the view of what a “lady” is.

You’re more malleable when you aren’t self-aware. You’re easier to predict and control when you aren’t self-assured. People know what to expect of you and how much space you’ll take up when your words and actions show that the answer is “not much.” I realized I didn’t want to be malleable, predictable, or controllable. I wanted more than the basics and more than the small space I allowed myself, and the key to that is through self-confidence.

There’s levels to this, though. For me, self-confidence is rooted in the fact that there ain’t nobody else out there like me. No one with my skills, laugh, height, skin tone, hair texture, voice. No one with my past. No one awaiting the gifts that are coming specifically for me in the future. There’s no one who possesses all these things the way I do – and for that fact alone, how can I not revel in the fact that I’m a 1 of 1?

I work damn hard, too. If someone compliments something I’ve done, I’d be a gotdamn fool to act like my merits are minuscule. And trust me – I’ve been that gotdamn fool. I’ve said “Oh, that was just a thing I did,” or “Gosh, it’s nothing big” when I’ve actually wanted to heartily say “Thank you!” and bask in the fact that yes, I did that.

I love me. I didn’t always – I didn’t hate myself, but I was indifferent – but I do more and more as the years pass. I love me enough to bounce back when someone else doesn’t. Or when I’ve failed and had to remind myself I’m worth the effort to try again. I love me enough to say “I want more” and follow up with “You deserve it. Go get it.” I love me, so it makes bouncing back from “I’m not feeling me” to “I’m dope as a muhfucka” a bit easier.

When did we start to believe that any step into self-confidence equated to arrogance? When did we start to believe that it was more important to make others comfortable than to take up our rightful space in the world? When did we decide to wait for someone else to confirm the things we already saw in ourselves? When did it begin to matter that other people sometimes don’t like the fact that you like yourself?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: low self-esteem is an epidemic of massive proportions. Playing yourself small under the guise of “being humble,” denying yourself the opportunity to be enriched by others, not celebrating the things that make you you – I don’t know about y’all, but acting like this starves me. I like feeling full, and when someone tells me it’s bad to be full of myself, I remember another necessary quote from Nikki Giovanni:

and he said: you pretty full of yourself ain’t chu
so she replied: show me someone not full of herself
    and i’ll show you a hungry person
Fight the recession. Be full.

THE MISSION: 3 Ways To Thrive When Life Is In Flux

 

thrive-survive

It’s been about one week since I ended my maternity leave and went back to work.

Going from pre-Magician: balancing day job and side hustle

to

post-Magician: balancing baby and side hustle

to

post-mat leave: balancing baby and day job and side hustle

has left me feeling like I’m a certain state of chaos.

Now, I’m blessed to have a great partner in HomieLuva who not only encourages me to do my thing, but is also taking on house-husband duties and staying home with Little Magician (more about that to come on The Brown Suga Mama). That aside, it’s still quite an overwhelming transition to figure out how I fit into this new world, how I succeed in this new world, and how I continue to be me in this new world.

These first few days have been an OVERWHELMING blend of waking up early, attempting to say goodbye without crying, navigating the work commute, trying to remember staff names and computer logins, being stuck in rush hour traffic, writing deadlines, event planning, trying to remember to eat dinner, baths and baby laughs and going to bed so late that I start stressing about waking up before I even fall asleep. But I’m doing it, and pushing through. It’s all I can do, really.

Do you know how scary it is to feel like you don’t know how to do something, but know you have no choice except to get up and do it? When Little Magician was first born, the mornings used to give me that kind of anxiety. HomieLuva would leave for work, she’d wake up, and I’d say a silent prayer just hoping to get through the day without making any huge mistakes. That fear and anxiety left me for a while, but now it’s back. I don’t know how to be this woman who’s a mom with a full time job and engrossing side hustle – and be good at it all – but every day I get up, say a silent prayer, and head out into the world to to do the best I can.  I’m not the first woman to struggle with balancing her various duties – I encounter them on social media, I read about them in magazines, and I see them in real life. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone, but it’s still lonely in the days where I’m figuring out what my perfect recipe for success is.

I recently decided that my theme for 2015 is going to centre around the world thrive. I’m determined to be full and fulfilled in all aspects of my life, so I’m starting to function from a place where the things I do and the decisions I make support that.  There are a few things I’m committed to doing to help me thrive and to feel more settled in my multiple roles and identities:

Create room.

I’m realizing that I don’t need to be doing all of the things I’m doing. Certain things have expired and are no longer serving me well, and that extra baggage of duty just adds to my stress levels. In order to make room for the things and opportunities that I know will help me thrive, I have to cut some things loose. This means saying no. This means letting go of FOMO (fear of missing out). This means remembering that quality is of more importance than quantity at this point.

Less complaining, more action.

I tend to do something that HomieLuva calls “spiraling”: I get stressed about one thing, then I start bringing up everything that’s going wrong, and before you know it, I’m a mess who can’t find her way out of the hole she’s dug herself into. Yesterday I decided that venting is important, but I need to partner it with a piece of action as well. I”m going to start trying this: whatever I vent about, I’m going to end the vent session with a declaration of action, and follow through. It’s important to remember to not be paralyzed by your stress and to find ways to make even the smallest step towards something better.

Remember I’m doing fine.

In juggling all of these different roles and identities I have to remember that while things seem daunting or overwhelming in the moment, once it passes I realize “Hey – I survived. And things weren’t that bad.” I’m more capable than I often believe, and situations aren’t usually as dire as I make them out to be in my mind. Just remembering that I am, in fact, doing OK helps to keep going when the going gets tough.

I’m able to look ahead and see a vision of myself with things more figured out than they are now. I see the Bee who is integrating the various aspects of her being, who is a walking Venn diagram with things overlapping and intersecting in harmony, who is thriving and seeing growth in the layers of her life. I can see her and I’m trying to catch up to her – running without a map and stumbling along the way, but trying to reach her nonetheless. Here’s hoping that sooner or later, we meet – and start walking thriving together.

JEANNINE, PT. 2: Sharing A Story Of Mental Illness

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In today’s post, we continue with part 2 of Jeannine’s story of living with mental illness. Jeannine recently disclosed her diagnosis with bipolar 2 disorder, and today we’ll get a bit deeper into her story. If you missed part 1, check it out here!

Mental Illness Misconceptions

The biggest misconception people have about mental illness is that we are ‘crazy’ and dangerous. I hate when people talk about how they met someone who was just so rude and angry about something that she/he “must be bipolar.” That is a huge pet peeve of mine because everyone gets angry and that certainly does not define the disorder. Or when I tell people about my disorder they try to comfort me by telling me about the one time they were “depressed” over a breakup or something similar. I am always like OMGosh that is sadness, not depression. There is a lot of ignorance surrounding the disorder because of the images that are portrayed of people with mental illness. You rarely hear the good. It is often that they killed someone or did a mass murder or were gunned down by police. It frustrates me because there are so many people who have a mental illness or bipolar who are managing and living their lives without any violence. There are good aspects to my illness during hypomania. I become very creative and productive. I can complete a weeks’ worth of tasks in a day. I need little sleep and feel super refreshed and energized. I love being hypomanic because of my ability to just be on the ball and stress free.  A lot of people are unaware of the hypomanic or manic aspects of bipolar disorder.

Coping Strategies

I am registered for a Dialectical Behavioural Therapy or DBT program and have been on the waitlist for over a year now. My treatment is still a work in progress and I really wish I had more information or a better plan here, but the truth is I really don’t. I take it one day at a time and try really hard to monitor my moods, symptoms and their manifestations. I also have limits on my bank accounts, no credit cards, and live directly on cash. It helps to avoid overspending, which is a symptom of hypomania. My diagnosis is still new to me and I am working on developing better treatment plans for myself. I self medicate a lot and that is something I really want to work on.

About Jeannine’s Support System

My support system consists of my dog, a few friends, my ex, and my counsellors.

jeannine misty

My biggest savior in my whole treatment is my dog Misty. She is my saving grace and I say it all the time, she saves my life every single day. My dog keeps me grounded and reminds me to enjoy the little things in life. I go for walks and get to be in nature, which helps me so much. I can relieve stress by just petting her and hugging her. I cry to her and confide in her. I know it sounds strange because she is only a dog, but the love we have for each other and our connection is what I need on a daily basis. She is the best part of my life and I want to take this opportunity to say that emotional support animals (ESA) should be recognized in Canada and not just the US. I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have her.

[My friends] show more understanding and tolerance than before because of [bipolar 2 disorder] and they allow me to express myself more.  I have very few friends, one in particular, who I feel completely comfortable talking to about my illness because she doesn’t judge.  She knows how to listen and understands how difficult it is for me to talk about it. She has the necessary empathy to give me her undivided attention and I love her so much for that.  Thanks baby girl – you know who you are! My family doesn’t really know enough about it to say anything. It is definitely not something that we talk about — at all!

I wish I had a better support system, but you can’t force someone to support you.  I do wish that I had a place to talk openly about what I feel and what I go through daily. It would be nice to know other people who struggle the way I do, but are successful in their management of their illness.

When Well-Meaning Words Hurt

I don’t like when people say that they know someone who has this disorder and tell me about a bunch of horrible things the person has done, only to say “Are you sure you have bipolar?” as if the disorder is only associated with bad things. There are times when I am hypomanic and I wish I would stay up there. Since I have become a little more open I have heard a plethora of advice, such as “Maybe if you didn’t give in to your disorder…” or “Just tell yourself to get up!” Oh, and my favourite is “I think you use your disorder as an excuse, and maybe if you didn’t label yourself then you wouldn’t feel the way you do.” The worst thing I think I have ever heard and still hear a lot is to keep my disorder a secret because I will be labeled. I absolutely despise when people say that. I feel like there is truth to what they are saying and that is all the more reason to talk about it and let people know. If we don’t start the conversation, how can we ever expect things to change?

Jeannine’s Inspirations

There are a few people who inspire me. Jenifer Lewis, the actor, because she is amazing at her craft. I had no idea she was bipolar and when I found out it just amazed me because of the numerous roles she has been in. She is an amazingly versatile actor. My biggest inspiration though is Melody Moezzi, she is the author of Bipolar Life. I love her book because I found it so funny and real. Melody is a Middle Eastern American who is an attorney, author, public speaker, and advocate for bipolar sufferers. I love how she has battled and overcome so much. She had a lot of adversity because like the Black community, the Middle Eastern community does not really acknowledge mental illness. There is a very dismissive attitude amongst both cultures. Her fearlessness inspires me often. She gives me a lot of hope and is a constant reminder that I can heal from this.

What Jeannine Has Learned About Herself

I have learned that I am a tough woman and can overcome anything. I have been through a lot and am still here telling my story.

Final Question: For people you know who may be finding out about your mental illness for the first time via this blog post, what do you most want them to understand?

That I am still Jeannine, the same person that they have always known.

I’m so honoured to be the conduit for Jeannine’s story, and can’t tell her enough how proud of her I am. If you’d like to reach out to her, please shoot me an email and I will forward to her. 

Continuing the conversation, I’ll be hosting an important event on February 7th at The Royal Cinema: the premiere of The Blind Stigma, a documentary focusing on mental illness in the Black community. Please check out the documentary trailer, an interview with the filmmaker Stacy-Ann Buchanan, and grab your tickets here! Let’s keep this going and keep lifting each other up in love and support. 

JEANNINE, PT. 1: Sharing A Story Of Mental Illness

It’s kind of serendipitous how things work out sometimes.

Today marks Bell Let’s Talk Day – a day spearheaded by Bell Canada to shine a light on the discussion of mental illness in our society. I didn’t plan for this post to be published today, but it makes all the sense in the world that it is.

Today’s post features part 1 of the story of Jeannine, a university friend of mine who reached out recently with an unexpected request. It’s my honour to fulfill that request and to give her the space to share something she’s kept hidden for too long. So, without further ado, meet Jeannine.

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3 Things About Jeannine

I used to take skiing lessons and still can’t ski. I do mixed martial arts and box. I have 13 nieces and nephews for a total of 21 members of what I consider to be my ‘immediate’ family.

The Big Reveal

I have bipolar 2 disorder and a hint of borderline personality disorder (BPD).  I was formally diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder in November 2011 and have not yet had a formal diagnosis for BPD. If I could sum up my mental illness in one word it would be ‘sucky/crappy’. It is definitely the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with in my life and it consumes a huge part of my life.

What Bipolar 2 Disorder Looks & Feels Like For Jeannine

Bipolar 2 disorder looks like chaos to me and feels lonely. I often refer to my illness as my shame because for me it still is shameful. It’s as if I judge and stigmatize myself. Anyway, it is very hard for me to make decisions – especially those that affect my entire life – such as career choice or relationships. Even [deciding] what I want to eat becomes difficult. My thoughts race a lot making it difficult to form a clear thought process. When I am depressed this is especially prominent. My mind can go off on a tangent of insults, put downs, a synopsis of all my disappointments, and remind me of every bad thing anyone has ever said to me. I was once told by a counselor that I have a negative box. I open it up when I am depressed and go through all of the problems I have ever encountered in life. A counselor told me this prior to my diagnosis and I have never forgot because that is exactly what it feels like. In those moments I hate myself and think that no one in the world cares about me or will notice if I am gone. I am in a dark place and for some reason I feel horribly safe there.

It doesn’t make sense, but in those moments I want to remain in my depression alone because letting anyone in is dangerous. I become full of shame and embarrassment with an overwhelming warmth of loneliness.  I use the word ‘warmth’ because it is warm and comfy being alone in those terrible moments. To let someone I know see me like that would change everything they know about me and how they perceive me. I never let anyone see me there – no one. I have been told by my closest friends that I hide my illness very well and I think I do. Actually, I know I do. I have worked very hard to hide my shame, but it doesn’t take long for a roommate or someone who lives with me to notice that something is wrong or that I am “different”. I’ve had a roommate diagnose me with bipolar before I really knew what it was, let alone been diagnosed. This disorder affects my judgement, decision making, my relationships, my mood, concentration, and sometimes my social interactions. It is a hard thing to deal with and I often question my mental state when doing anything, especially with people that I know.

Jeannine’s Journey To Diagnosis

I knew that something was different about me and that is why I started to see my doctor and counselors. I wanted to be “fixed” and expected it to happen. I thought that I would go to the counselor and they would be able to connect the dots, unleash my demons, and send me on my way – boy, was I wrong. I had always been a bright student and did well in school, but when I got to high school I just stopped caring. I stopped trying and going to class and was completely withdrawn. By the time I got to Western (the University of Western Ontario) I had enough with this disengagement and started to see a counselor. I kept going back to these counselors and was so hungry for an answer and didn’t stop until I found one. I went to many doctors and services in hopes to get some help and support in my search for an answer. I was also aware that I had mental illness in my family and knew that there was a possibility that I had one. I had always been a sensitive person, but it got so extreme that I needed help. I thought that everyone hated and judged me, especially when I arrived at Western. I felt like a fish out of water and needed to get grounded, so when I found about the free service I took advantage of it.

All About Treatment

Treatment is still very much a work in progress. I have a hard time coming up with a concrete plan that works, but have been doing a lot of trial and error. Right now, treatment looks like medications, which are Wellbutrin and Abilify. I also see a couple counselors and have a psychiatrist. I have learned some coping skills, such as grounding exercises, breathing techniques, and medication. I am also aware of regular sleep, a good diet, and exercise, but do not follow these guidelines the way I should.

I struggle with every aspect of my treatment. I never used to take my medication because I thought it was a band-aid solution. I wanted to be cured and not treated – that was my goal. Last year I was receiving no treatment except for counselling and got a huge wake up call. I learned where my illness can take me and I don’t want to ever go back there, so I started taking my medication regularly.

Jeannine’s story continues in tomorrow’s post – learn more about her treatment plan, the most important person in her support circle, her inspirations, and more. Also, you’ll learn more about The Blind Stigma, a documentary discussing mental illness in the Black Canadian community. Today, follow the #BellLetsTalk hashtag on Facebook and Twitter to support the initiative.

MONDAY RANDOMS: A Mish-Mash Of Thoughts

aye fam

So, I’ve started this post about 3 or 4 different times, erasing and re-crafting new opening statements that speak to whatever particular topic I feel should be my go-to for this week. The problem is, my mind is so all over the place that I want to equally speak on 3 or 4 different things, and I figure I’ll just do them all instead of trying to choose one.

Bee The Yogi

Last week was a really rough week for a few different reasons. I had a particularly tough day on Thursday but found solace in an unlikely spot – my neighbourhood yoga studio.

I’ve always been a sporadic yogi, mainly due to cost and the fact that yoga studios were often too far out of the way to make them easy for me to attend. I’ve always loved how yoga made me feel, so when we moved into our new ‘hood over the summer and I realized that a yoga studio was within walking distance from my house, I was curious about the possibilities of signing up. Instead of doing my usual investigative process before attending any fitness class, I simply Googled the studio, found a class starting in 30 minutes, grabbed my mat, a towel, and a bottle of water, and showed up.

I’m so glad I did. Moving my body, sweating, challenging myself, and focusing on something other than my problems worked like magic. After a day where I felt like I could do absolutely nothing right, the “Good job!” I earned from the instructor as I held the eagle pose meant everything. At the end of the class, I cried all through Savasana to release my remaining stress, then signed up for the newcomer special. Let’s see how this goes…

Sights Set On Spring

I’m not sure what it is, but winter 2015 is feeling like some ole bullshit for myself and a number of people I’ve spoken with. It seems like a lot of us welcomed this year in the midst of major flux – people are looking for new jobs, searching for new places to live, dealing with health issues, managing family issues, assessing current relationships, and are generally trying to just figure things out.

I’m calling it now: spring/summer 2015 is about to be amazing. With all of the trials and tribulations people are experiencing right now, I’m clinging to the belief that all of this chaos is just shifting the best parts of our lives thus far into place.

One of the quotes I live by in times like these is from Pearl Cleage:

The Buddhists believe that sometimes when everything is in turmoil, it’s because something wonderful is ready to be born and that thing is distracting you so it can have some privacy during the birthing process.

Here’s hoping that springtime gives birth to wonderful things.

Accountability Is Key

Are you working on something? Trying to achieve a goal? If you don’t have an accountability partner, do yourself a favour and get one.

I have accountability partners for various things. A group of veritable strangers on Twitter make up one group – if you follow the #GetCreative2015 hashtag there, you’ll find a gang of creatives who are using Twitter to keep each other working, learning, and growing, and it’s been SO helpful in these first few weeks of the year. I have a girlfriend who lives in Texas who keeps me in check and inspires me on various levels, including my goal to be more physically active (she was super proud when she heard of my yoga adventure the other day). Having even one person that you can check in with and who keeps you on track with whatever it is you’re trying to achieve makes a huge difference in productivity.

I’ve talked about mentorship and sponsorhip (two practices I wholly believe in), but having someone who keeps you accountable is another piece of the puzzle. Try to find that person for yourself, or offer to be that person for someone else – it’s truly a gamechanger.

 

Whew. It feels good to get those mini-thoughts out. At this point, I’m just hoping for a week better than the last – and I wish the same for you.

2015 FEARS: When You Can’t See What’s Next

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2015 is here, and I have to admit something – I’m a bit scared.

I usually welcome the new year with anticipation or more aptly, vorfruede: (n) the joyful, intense anticipation that comes from imagining future pleasures. Especially since 2012 – which was one of the worst years on record for ya girl – I’ve tried to muster as much courage and optimism as I could with each new year, willing it to be better than the last.

And that’s generally what’s happened.

2013 was about rebuilding after enduring the traumas of 2012 (which I’ve sorta talked about but never written about). I started reconstructing my self-esteem and did the work to really begin figuring out what I wanted my life to look like. 2013 was my personal “Pheonix rising from the ashes” year, and I went through it dusty but determined to get back to who I knew I could be.

The work paid off in 2014. That was the year I felt I really started to step into being the woman I’ve always dreamed of. I took personal and professional risks, I practiced forgiveness, I found success, and I accomplished things that have been present on my vision boards for years now. I became a mother and in that role have found a new opportunity to mold this woman called Bee, who now has a girlchild looking to her for love and guidance.

2014 was a lot. I’m still trying to catch my breath and let all the wins, losses, and changes settle in, but now we’re in 2015 and it’s go time again. What scares me is that much more change is afoot and the year is beginning with me in a fuzzy haze, unable to see my next step, unable to find a map to help me get to some unclear destination. After a few years of working in set goals and absolutes, maybe 2015 is about letting go of control a bit…letting the change wash over me…focusing more on who I want to be and how I want to feel about life than merely working towards the acquisition of things. What scares me is that despite having goals for the year, I don’t really see anything. I can’t remember a year filled with more unknowns. On the positive, I try to view the unknown as the sign of an open road, of possibility. On the negative, it makes my stomach tight, my breath short, and my sleep disturbed.

I want to be consistent with blogging, continue to earn my stripes as a freelance writer, and work on some other new creative projects. I want to put on great events. I want to travel. I want to read more. I want to make money. I want to continue to work towards fulfillment in my professional and personal lives. So, the intentions are there, but this 2015 haze has perfumed the air with the scent of trepidation, watchfulness and assessment. Was 2014 a fluke? Will I make the right decisions when it comes to my career? Will I take good control of my health? What will my shifting priorities mean for my life? How am I going to balance the various identities that jostle against themselves in my body like atoms do? How will I handle all the changes in my life, knowing I’ve never been good with it at all? Too many questions make me nervous, but all I see are the questions and all I feel are the nerves.

I know I’ve grown, because even through the nerves and fear, I still carry a tiny sparkle of hope that everything will be alright. In fact, one of my personal mantras (that always makes sense to me if it doesn’t for anyone else) is “Everything will be alright, then it will be better than alright” and I’m carrying that with me. Old Bee would allow this fear to paralyze her, to cause her to shut down when things get too hard, to crumble with even the slightest touch of negativity, to fuel a never-ending game of “What If” where she tries to control every possible outcome of a situation. I’m not 100% removed from that girl, but this year I’ll attempt to let these nerves be the energy that propels me while embracing the fact that “I don’t know” is an answer I can give myself. “I don’t know” doesn’t mean “I’ll never know,” but it gives me time and room, allowing me to be a bit kinder to myself in what will undoubtedly be a year that requires self-care.

So, 2015 is here and we have no choice but to be present and make the best of it. Hopefully this haze will dissipate and my way will become a bit clearer – but until then I’ll just float along, letting go of things that don’t serve me well, grasping the things that do, finding the beauty in “I don’t know,” and making an effort to simply do my best every day.

INHALE/EXHALE: Reflecting On 2014

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After writing my last post (nearly a month ago – Lawd!), I decided I really needed to step back a bit to address some of the things I wrote about – feeling overwhelmed, being addicted to achievement, and not taking a moment to let all of life’s changes sink in. I’ve been trying to work on all those things, and I think I’m starting to make some headway. 2014 has been a hell of a year – both personally and with society overall, I feel – and now that we’re here at the end of it, I figured that I’d use this post to continue to aid in my aim of self-preservation and reflect a bit on what was before thinking about what will be in 2015.

I think 2014 was the first year in a while that I didn’t make a vision board. I had all intentions of doing so – I even started one on my favourite vision board app on Oprah’s site. I never got around to finishing it, and part of me wondered if this would, on some supernatural level, equate to me having a year without direction. Funnily enough, now that the year is closing out I feel that I have more direction than I could have ever imagined. They say “to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been” – so I feel that this moment of reflection is akin to the drawing back of a bow before the arrow is launched at its intended target. Draw back with me for a moment, will you?

2014 was the year of excess. Not in any kind of hedonistic wealth-driven kind of way, but in the way of having so many decisions, so many changes, so many risks, and so man achievements. 2014 has made me exhausted in some of the best ways possible, and 2014 has transformed me in ways that still haven’t settled themselves fully in my spirit.

Achievements/Lessons Learned

I learned (yet again) that my big mouth can and will get me into “trouble” – voicing my opinions about a TV show hosts’ misogynistic blog post on women in media earned me a spot on his show, giving life to the Rick Ross lyric “F*ck a blog, dog, ’cause one day we gon’ meet!”

I got to meet one of my girl crushes – the awesome Yendi Phillipps – not once, but twice, and tested out some new interviewing skills in my first set of ’83 To Infinity videos. That experience taught me not to sell myself short – I almost didn’t email her management for an interview request because I thought I was too small-time. Had I not, I would have missed out on an amazing opportunity and would have stunted my own growth. And I’m all about growth.

I learned that pregnancy/motherhood can slow your roll, but it doesn’t have to. From hosting events to being a featured panelist to facilitating workshops to speaking at conferences, I somehow found a way to keep myself more than busy this year. I also found time to start/continue 3 “signature” events – Brunch With Bee in March, Curls, Coils & Cocktails in July, and Mirror Images in October. Don’t ask me how I did it – I think I’ve been running on adrenaline for most of 2014.

I stepped my freelance writing game up in a big way. From writing some great pieces for my current outlets to being nationally and internationally published, I’m growing into my writing skills daily.

I can now call myself “an award-winning blogger” after taking home the Best Blogger award at the 2014 Black Canadians Award. My mantle now has a bit of extra sparkle to it, but the recognition of my hard work is even better. Elsewhere in the blogosphere, I launched The Brown Suga Mama. It’s been fun juggling my two online spaces, and both have seen awesome growth.

New Identities

I tried on a bunch of new roles and titles this year, some because I believed in myself enough to succeed in them (like my Community Health Ambassador role), and some because other people have believed in me to succeed (like some new projects I’m working on that I’ll share soon!). The one new role that merges both is the new identity of mother. My Little Magician is almost 6 months old at this point, and life has changed immeasurably since she’s come into it. She’s made me tougher and softer at the same time. She’s caused me to rearrange some of my priorities and re-evaluate what I think is/thought was important. She’s made me want to know myself more than ever before, because everyone (including myself) sees me differently now. Those who previously saw me as a wife/daughter/sister/friend now see me with a new dimension added, but for her, I have always been this entity, this icon, this person – so I’ve kinda gotta get it together and be honest about it in the process.

It’s not easy. I’m not good with change. I put too much pressure on myself. I overthink things. I struggle. A lot. All of this is a recipe for disaster when getting acclimated to a new addition to the Venn diagram of self-identity, but such is life. I’m still figuring out how to do this, how I want to do it, who I want to be – but through her birth I’ve also been reborn in a way, so one day I’ll thank her for allowing me to grow with her.

Reset. Renew. 

Though we often get in the habit of reviewing the past year at this point in the calendar, I always have a bit of a reset period in May leading up to my birthday. This year I happened to write: Hello, 31: that curious point in life where – if you’re blessed – you not only feel like you’ve lived a full lifetime already, but you also feel like you’re just getting started. I’m blessed. If I felt that in May, I feel it tenfold now – especially the point about just getting started. Remember that earlier point I made about having direction? So many things this year have given me clarity on what I believe, where I stand, what I want, and how I’m going to get it. There is so much out there for me to immerse myself in, to taste, to touch, to discuss, to learn – and I refuse to waste any more time with self-doubt. My goal is to wrap up 2014 with gratitude, and enter 2015 feeling renewed and ready. Drawing back that bow is like taking a moment to inhale deeply – but it’s almost time to exhale, let go, and let that arrow fly.

DIAMONDS & DUST: Succumbing To Pressure You Put On Yourself

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I had to do something really uncomfortable the other day. I had to sit down with someone I really cared about, look them in the eye, and tell them, “Hey. You’ve really gotta cut the bullsh*t and get it together.” I knew this person was avoiding the conversation, and I knew they didn’t really want to hear it, but it had to be said.

That person on the receiving end of this reality check was me.

Though I’ve maintained a steely exterior, fault lines have been forming below the surface for some time now. I’m always reminded that diamonds form under pressure, but I’m quick to note that things crumble under it too. I always err on the side of being sparkly, beautiful, and conflict-free, but I finally had to admit that if the products of pressure were laid out like a fork in the road, things were actually heading down a dire path.

I’m a true Taurus in that change is very difficult for me. Becoming a mom, physical fluctuations, moving and becoming a homeowner, leaving my 9-5, having more time for passions, having some passions lose their lustre and turn into burdens – things have changed so much that sometimes I look in the mirror and have a hard time recognizing myself. Being a chronic overachiever, self-critic, and overthinker do nothing to help with my identity shift, either.

I see now that there are things I’ve done, things I’ve agreed to, more for the purpose of proving I could do them than actually wanting to do them. I’ve tried to hold on to parts of life that were familiar, and I’ve tried to mold something magnificent with these new compartments – but the way I feel much of the time shows me that I’ve gone about it all wrong. In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve done a good job of internally dealing with all these changes, and I’ve been using external things to pretend like I have.

How common is it to hop, skip, and jump over things that need to be addressed by just layering something else on top of it? Sometimes retail therapy is my chosen cloak of oblivion. Sometimes I get very vain and focus wholly on the external – feeling “together” if the outside is shiny, painted, and pretty. Other times – like now – I get high on achievement and doing things. Doing things keeps my mind busy. Gives me something goal-oriented to focus on. Lets me know people still value me when they ask me to be somewhere/do something. Achievement and accomplishment get a bit addictive, especially when someone even slightly insinuates that there’s something I can’t do. So instead of taking a break, checking in with myself, and giving myself time to adjust to everything swirling around me, I’ve been pushing through, masking my insecurities and poor adjustment skills with doing more and more.

I sat down with myself the other day and said, “Self, this cannot continue.” I had heard it from those near and dear to me, but didn’t take it to heart until I said it to myself. It’s time to assess why I do the things I do, what I may be missing in the constant noise, and how I’m going to proceed. I’ve only gotten as far as that conversation with myself and this blog post, so I have some work to do.

Sometimes the hardest conversations are the ones we have with ourselves. I believe that they’re also the most transformative ones, so here’s to being real, being honest, and coming out as a more balanced and well-adjusted person on the other side.

CONVOS & CONNECTIONS: The Mirror Images Event Recap

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via The Diana Tracy Collection

I’m proud to say I did it.

After much thinking, planning, and plotting, I pulled off my first solo event – Mirror Images: Conversations on Diversity & Representation In Media.

The premise was clear. After reading Big Brother Canada host Arisa Cox’s piece on quitting a television job after being told she’d have to straighten her natural hair, I wished aloud for an event where I could hear about the lived experiences and perspectives of Black Canadian women in media. More about the whys of the event are detailed in my previous post here, but let’s get down to how it all played out.

I’ve just started to get comfortable with public speaking. So comfortable, in fact, that I sometimes confuse my enjoyment of speaking with the enjoyment of event planning. Event coordination is NO JOKE, and Mirror Images gave me a new respect for those who find joy in doing that work. I definitely learned a LOT – dealing with different people, overcoming obstacles and negativity, dotting i’ and crossing t’s, and looking at the event from the perspective of the attendee in order to hopefully create a positive space. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t perfect – but if I waited until it was, Mirror Images would never have happened.

We sold out of advance tickets. We sold out of door tickets. People who showed up were turned away due to lack of space. All this proved to me that the conversation I thought was important was also important to so many. This was so vital because I oftentimes have ideas that I don’t act on because I don’t know if others will get it – but Mirror Images showed that taking the risk can be worth it.

The discussion from my panelists - Arisa Cox, Namugenyi Kiwanuka, Ingrie Williams, Tatiana King, and Kim Johnson – was incredible. Nneka Elliott was unable to attend in person, but added to the texture of the conversation with answers she provided to me in advance. Discussions about Black beauty in mainstream media, the fallacies of Canadian multiculturalism in the industry, dealing with racism and sexism on the job, and much more were covered in an intelligent and entertaining way, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

via Black Lotus Media

via Black Lotus Media

 

via Black Lotus Media

via Black Lotus Media

via Black Lotus Media

via Black Lotus Media

Stand out moments:

When Namugenyi discussed the decision to use her given name in media despite being urged to change her media moniker to something “easier.”

When Arisa detailed the ways she unapologetically navigates the narrow box of acceptable aesthetics in an industry only beginning to understand Black beauty.

When Ingrie talked about providing a voice and space for Canadian diversity within the pages of HOLR Magazine.

When Tatiana discussed building her personal brand through blogging and content creation.

When Kim explained the nuances of working in a variety of Canadian markets, and how her position as a Black woman in media was regarded in each one.

When Nneka shared that she realized her role as a Black woman in media mattered when a young girl saw her on assignment and incredulously told her that her mom said there were no Black people on TV in Canada.

via Black Lotus Media

via Black Lotus Media

The way the panelists provided their insights and interacted naturally with each other kept the audience engaged – and before I knew it, we had reached the end of the discussion. In all honesty, we could have kept that bad boy going for I don’t know HOW long – but venue constraints and flights to catch (Arisa lives in Edmonton) meant we had time limits to attend to. I made a gametime decision to utilize the remaining venue time to network and meet & greet instead of doing a truncated Q&A session with the audience, but next time – and yes, there will be a next time – I’m going to ensure we make it a real conversation between panelists and attendees alike.

Next time? A bigger venue. A Q&A. And other additions that will make Mirror Images an even bigger and better event.

This time? I’m basking in the glow of feedback from attendees like the following:

“I can honestly say that the experience has re-ignited my drive and determination to represent the Black community, more specifically black women, in the media.”

“For quite sometime in Toronto I noticed that in our community (read: young, well-educated, upwardly mobile black women) that more prominent social circles were developed around superficial qualities (who are you wearing, what parties you went to, who you knew etc) and while that can be fun what was clearly missing were the events/social circles that were created around being thought-leaders…less about who you know and more about what you know.  Less about who you’re wearing and more about who you are.  I believe that Mirror Images attended to that gap.”

“I had to let you know that your event was truly monumental. What it represented and created was by far amazing but it also moved me. It shifted my mind and spirit but to a place where it was starting to drift from. A room full of beautiful black women, that wasn’t a party, wasn’t for any foolishness but self betterment, empowerment and eye opening educational purposes. I haven’t been in such a setting in a very long time.”

I want to keep the conversation going. I’m looking at hosting a Mirror Images twitter chat sometime very soon (date and time TBD) and I hope you’ll join in! Also, check out this fabulous recap from Real Delina, and a great video recap from The Diana Tracy Collection, who graciously gifted the panelists and I with her jewelry!

Thank you to everyone who attended, and to R Flavour Inc., Soulafrodisiac, Caribbean Vibrations TV, Harlem Restaurant, Glam & Eros Makeup Artistry, The Diana Tracy Collection, Black Lotus Media, Jeremy John, and my dream team who helped out before, during, and after!

Another Mirror Images will be coming soon – stay tuned!

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