REJUVENATED: Visiting Toronto’s Body Blitz Spa

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Life has been extremely busy lately, and it’s been hard enough finding time to pee some days, let alone trying to find time to pamper myself. Luckily, peeing AND pampering time presented itself last week, when I had a chance to visit Toronto’s women’s-only Body Blitz Spa.

With two locations in downtown Toronto, Body Blitz Spa focuses on the health benefits of water, utilizing ancient restorative water practices. The spa offers traditional services like massages, facials, body scrubs, and more – but the highlight is in Body Blitz’s water circuit.

I’ll be honest. I know that water is integral to our existence as humans, with 70% of our bodies comprised of the stuff and all. I also know that when I cut out pop and juice in exchange for water, my hair and skin are extremely happy. However – fighting my sweet tooth that prefers juices over H2O can be a struggle, and I’m always challenging myself to drink more water. After one visit to Body Blitz, my belief in the simple power of water has been restored, and I’m already plotting my return.

First off – decide if you’re going nude or rocking a bathing suit. Either option is fine, but if it’s that time of the month, you’ll be asked to wear a bathing suit bottom. Body Blitz provides you with your own locker, flip flops, towels, robe, hair elastics, and a laminated poster detailing the process for the water circuit.

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After an initial shower in the shower station (yummy citrus body wash, shampoo, and conditioner provided), you start off in the warm Dead Sea Salt pool. This pool helps to relax muscles, aids in the removal of toxins in the body, and helps replenish the body with important nutrients. Next, is the eucalyptus oil steam room, which is amazing for relaxation, increasing circulation, and cleansing the skin. The steam room will open your sinuses up and have you sweating like a pig – but it feels incredible.

A quick shower follows the steam room, then it’s time for a 1-minute plunge in the cold pool. This requires a bit of mind over matter, because the sh*t is COLD. But it has a purpose – the cold plunge helps to increase the body’s energy level, tighten your pores, and helps to balance your body temperature.

After the cold plunge, it’s time for the infrared sauna. This sauna draws out 3 times more sweat than traditional saunas, leading to an even deeper detoxification process. Where the steam room was a somewhat aggressive heat that took some getting used to, the sauna was hot but very comfortable. One round in the steam room and sauna, and I sweat like I’ve never sweat before – but it felt so good!

Another rinse in the showers, then another cold plunge is next. The shift between hot and cold temperatures helps to tone your skin and regulate body temperature and heart rate.

Next is the heated Epsom salt pool, which helps to relieve muscle pain, reduce inflammation, improves both sleep and concentration, and regulates a number of enzymes in the body. After another shower rinse, it’s time for one last minute in the cold plunge, and the circuit is complete.

One circuit took me about an hour to complete when you factor in small wait times for showers, water breaks (which you need a lot of to replenish your body), and lingering a bit in some of the more relaxing parts of the circuit. I was quite rejuvenated after two full cycles so I called it a day at that point – Body Blitz recommends no more than 2 hours in the pools, but there’s no real limit on the time spent there. That being said, it is prudent to heed the time frames given for each stop on the water circuit. Too short? You may not get the desired benefits. Too long? Your body may get too much of a good thing or be overly depleted – so be careful. Staff are always around to answer questions or provide you with anything you need to make your stay enjoyable, and they did an amazing job while I was there.

How did I feel after the water circuit? Like a gotdamn brand new woman, to be honest. My body felt lighter, I felt more calm mentally than I had been in a long time, and I felt almost like a wet rag that had been wrung out really, really well. The last thing I wanted to do was put any junk in my body, so it actually helped to kickstart a renewed health and wellness focus. If a Body Blitz trip could be a quarterly treat to myself, whew – I’d be the finest, most Zen version of myself EVER. I’ll be giving up Tim Hortons runs and buying lunches to facilitate this.

At $54 a visit for access to the pools (except for Tuesdays, where the price drops to $44), Body Blitz is a truly awesome experience that leaves you seeing and feeling its benefit even days afterwards. Feel like trickin’ on yaself a bit more? Splurge for a massage, facial, body scrub, or other spa treatment available at Body Blitz.

Since my visit, I’ve been motivated to eat better, drink more water, and get in a good sweat when I can. It was a great reminder that my body requires care to run efficiently, and I’m doing myself a huge disservice by running it ragged with no time to reboot. Thanks to Body Blitz, I feel like I’m back on track – and I can’t wait to go again soon.

P.S. – this was written purely out of my positive experience at Body Blitz, and was not a sponsored post.

All images c/o Body Blitz Spa

HOT EVENT: Mirror Images: The Culture Of Digital Content Creation

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My eyes were opened when I read this literacy study, showing that girls were drawn to digital media while boys preferred print. I was even more intrigued when I read further and learned that Black girls read the most out of any other ethnic group captured in the study, comprised of 32,000 students at 130 schools in the UK. I was a girl who loved to read and write. I’m now a grown woman who primarily utilizes digital media for communication. Children today are growing up in the digital age, and I can’t help but wonder what the future (both near and distant) will hold for this medium. With those thoughts in mind, my next Mirror Images event was born.

On Sunday, September 27th, I’ll be hosting my 2nd Mirror Images event, called Mirror Images: The Culture Of Digital Content Creation. After last year’s awesome inaugural event, I knew I’d be back with another topic to delve into – and I’m really excited about this one.

After reading stats like the aforementioned girls in digital media, and breaking news about the rising rates of entrepreneurship among women, I was attracted to the idea of talking with women who have their hands in one or both of those areas – women who are digital content creators, who have expanded into entrepreneurship, and who have done the research to understand how women – particularly women of colour – are utilizing digital media in unique ways. As a blogger and freelance writer, I constantly engage in conversations about digital media online, but with Mirror Images, we’re taking the discussion live and direct!

I’ll be moderating a lively talk with the group, while representing the blogging/freelance writing side of digital content creation. My incredible panelists include:

Emily Mills: A mom, wife, full-time media professional, and creator of How She Hustles, a network for women. With solely a social media presence – no website or money spent on advertising – Emily has turned her online network into one that thrives offline, consistently selling out her How She Hustles live events.

Nehal El-Hadi: A writer, researcher, media producer, and doctoral candidate in Planning at the University of Toronto, where she’s studying how women of colour engage online through social media.

Sajae Elder: A graduate of Humber College’s Journalism School, Sajae is a digital content producer with a passion for hip hop, film, and cultural identity. Currently, she’s a freelance writer, social media manager, and segment producer of the wildly popular podcast, Gyalcast.

Rochelle Brown: One of Canada’s most popular vloggers, Rochelle is the mastermind behind Crazylightskingirl on YouTube. After vlogging for just one year, Rochelle’s following has surpassed 110,000 subscribers on YouTube and over 64,000 followers on Instagram.

Dope lineup, right? I thought so. My sponsors SoulAfrodisiac and RFlavour are also helping to make this entire event pop.

If you’ve ever wondered about one or more of the following, raise your hand:

How do you start out in digital content creation, and how do you find your niche in what seems like an oversaturated area?

What’s the trick behind turning an online audience into a live one? 

How can digital content creation become an entrepreneurial income stream? 

What is the best way to capture – and keep – an audience or online following?

What are the top social media applications, and how can you use them to share content or build business?

In what ways are women – and women of colour – utilizing digital media uniquely?

To get the answers to these questions and more, take that raised hand and click here to buy your ticket for Mirror Images!

There will be mix and mingling time. There will be an interactive talk with my panelists, moderated by yours truly. There will be a Q&A session for you to delve deeper into some of the themes and topics that arise. Come to connect offline, and leave with ways to improve online!

Here are the details:

When: Sunday, September 27th at 2-6pm

Where: The United Steelworkers Hall – 25 Cecil Street (near College and Spadina – free parking at rear, and wheelchair accessible)

How much? $15 earlybird tickets available at http://mirrorimages.ticketleap.com/digital/ (but not for long! Prices rising soon!)

Questions? Want to be a sponsor? Media inquiries? Get in touch with me.

My 1st Mirror Images event was a great success, and I’m looking forward to the same on September 27th – one month to go! I hope to see you there, where we can connect, learn, and grow together!

#WFC2015: The 2015 Women’s Freedom Conference Is Coming!

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Life has been hectic, but it’s generally been the kind of good hectic that keeps butterflies in my tummy and gives life the sort of exciting, out-of-control feeling that I thrive on at times.

A lot of wonderful new things are in the works, and one of those things is the 1st Women’s Freedom Conference, which I am SO proud to be a part of! If you’re a dope woman of colour, or know a dope woman of colour – keep reading.

While I believe that those of us who are “other” can and should find ways to burrow ourselves into the mainstream, I’m a huge advocate of creating your own space – space to exist, to shine, to share, to be. It’s no secret that marginalized people don’t have red carpets rolled out in their honour, with escorts at the ready to usher them to spaces where they are positively centered. With the Women’s Freedom Conference, intersectional women of colour are creating that space for other intersectional women of colour, to share their stories, their expertise, and their perspectives on life and liberation.

Our Leadership Team and Advisory Board are made up of incredible women like Feminista Jones, Reagan Gomez-Preston, Jamilah Lemieux, Linda Sarsour, and many others who represent the spectrum of women we hope to hear speak on October 25th.

Here’s a bit from our press release:

“On October 25, 2015, the Women’s Freedom Conference will center and amplify the unique voices and experiences of underrepresented women who have been disenfranchised beyond gender alone– women of color whose identities are intersectional and whose womanhood is shaped and defined along those intersections.

Last year, three close friends were having a conversation and one raised the idea of hosting an action that would bring together women of color from around the world together in one space. She asked the other two women if they would be interested in working to make it happen and they enthusiastically agreed. Initially conceived as a “freedom march” that would convene thousands of women in one American city, the women later decided that the platform would be more widely accessible to more people if it was a digital conference that could be accessed from anywhere in the world.”

My favourite thing about this conference is that it’s all digital – no need to travel across states and borders to attend. Find an internet connection, and you’re in there. As the International Marketing & Promotion Committee Leader, this is HUGE for me in encouraging women outside of the U.S. to attend and participate, and eliminates a lot of obstacles that women would face otherwise.

“The mission of the conference is to center Women of Color– our success, our concerns, our work, our activism, and our existence as vital contributors to making the world a better place. We want to make sure that women of color from around the world have a space to speak out and be heard, to teach others and to learn from each other, and to inform people of the work that they are doing in their respective communities.

Our goals include providing practical, real-world information from a diverse group of women, many of whom are actively working to improve the lives of women of color around the world. We want to make this information available to as many people as possible and we believe that utilizing modern technology is the best way to do so. Participants will engage in conversations, seminars, and direct actions focused on the empowerment of women of color by building solidarity and promoting sisterhood.”

Our Call for Submissions is now LIVE! If you are a woman of colour who has something to say or to share with the world, here is your chance.  Please review our submission details, and throw your brilliant hat in the ring!

Perhaps you don’t want to speak, but you want to attend virtually – stay tuned for more info as we get ready to launch the Women’s Freedom Conference on October 25th from 9am-9pm EST! Watch by yourself or organize a “watch party” with some friends, and take in all the amazing things we’ll have to offer! There may be opportunities to attend official watch parties in your city or town (Toronto, I’ve gotchu), so feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to know if someone is hosting in your area, or if you’re interested in doing so yourself!

So, what am I looking for?

I hope you’re as excited for the Women’s Freedom Conference as I am! More good things are on the way!

DATE LIFE: How A Tarot Card Reading Led To My Worst Date Ever

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A few weeks ago, a Twitter friend of mine (shout out @HonorbleMention) came up with the hashtag #BadDateChronicles – he encouraged followers to tweet stories of their worst dates so that we could all reminisce about love connections gone wrong. I shared my story in a series of tweets, but really did no justice to how tragically comical my worst date was.

So today, I take that walk down memory lane and share with you: my worst date ever.

The Reading

For my 24th birthday, I wanted to keep it low-key. It was a warm spring night, so my homies dragged me out to dinner, then we took a post-dinner walk through downtown Toronto. We stumbled upon a tarot card reader’s shop and the great (or terrible) idea for me to go in for a reading was born.

We opened the door into a dark hallway, ascended a creaky staircase covered in plush carpet, separated strands of chimes and beads hanging from the ceiling, and entered the tarot card reader’s lair. It was everything I imagined a tarot card reader’s lair to be: dark with corners lit by candles and vintage lamps, lots of velvet furniture, figurines and crystal balls and soft music playing from a small stereo. A woman emerged from a side room and greeted us. My friends explained the situation: it was my birthday, I needed a tarot card reading, don’t give me any bad news. She laughed, waved me into the other room, and asked my friends to wait downstairs. Clears the space of competing energies, she said.

During my reading she told me a ton of interesting things. What stuck out most was around the issue of love – I had gone through a tumultuous breakup, and was ready to get back in the dating game. Here’s what she told me:

“You’ll meet a tall man – a very tall, good looking man. When you meet, I see him in a shirt with an emblem or logo on the chest. He’ll have brown skin and light eyes – his eyes will be the first thing to catch you. He’ll be the love of your life – you’ll travel, and I see a wedding happening in an exotic location. He’ll take care of you, so look out for him. Oh – and you have an ex who is trying to get back into your life. Don’t let him.”

Y’all should have seen my face. A tall, fine dude who’ll sweep me away to exotic locales? Plus the confirmation that maybe I should be ignoring those “Hey stranger” texts from the ex? I was sold.

Fast forward a week or so later.

The Meet-Cute

I was at a soca fete with my homegirls. Music pulsated and bodies jumped and waved and wined in the hot and sweaty venue. Just as I stopped to fan myself with a mix cd some dude handed out in the crowd, I felt someone come up behind me and start wining. Sidenote: ain’t no “Excuse me, miss – may I have this dance?” at soca fetes. Everyone generally dances with everyone, and if you’re not in the mood, a cute two-step and spin away from the hopeful partner usually solves the problem. I was in a dancing mood though, and my homegirl in front of me gave me the raised eyebrow that signaled, “Girl – he fine. Do ya thing.” So I did.

When I took a second to turn and see how cute he was for myself, I was surprised to realize that my eye level was at his upper chest level (I’m 6ft tall, so it’s not often I meet dudes THAT much taller than me). Turquoise Polo shirt, with the familiar horse and jockey logo on the chest. Suddenly, I remembered my birthday tarot card reading. I looked up, slowly drinking in the broad chest and shoulders to the neck and finally the face. Smooth brown skin. Piercing green eyes. IT WAS MY MAN, Y’ALL!

We engaged in a bit of that ‘music’s too loud so we have to lean in real close to talk’ club convo, sharing names and smiles, with me taking in the scent of his cologne while being glad that I had some minty gum in my mouth. The night went on, and we danced, talked, had his friends to get with my friends so we could be friends, then exchanged numbers at the end of the night. We chatted the next day, made plans for an after-work date later that week, and I floated around daily on a cloud of tarot promises and soca music.

The Date

Date night came. Since it was a weeknight, and I like my first dates easy with ample room for conversation, I offered up the simple idea of going out for ice cream, but I didn’t know of a good spot to go to. “Oh, there’s a great dessert spot near you at Markham and Ellesmere,” he said when he picked me up (mad late, I might add – strike one). I was absolutely certain there was no dessert spot on that corner, but he was absolutely, arrogantly certain there was. “Nah – you just don’t know the area,” he said. We headed out, and – surprise, surprise – no dessert spot existed. “Man, I was positive it was here! They must have just closed it.” I stayed silent. It was late, we wasted time driving to a non-existent location, AND he didn’t listen to me. I suggested we just go to a nearby McDonald’s so we could grab sundaes and chat.

We got our ice cream, took our seats at an outdoor table, and got into a decent stream of conversation. I convinced myself to give him a fresh start after the earlier mishaps, but something in my spirit just wasn’t meshing with him. I thought, ‘this has to work – the tarot card reader said so!’ and continued to push through.

Out of nowhere, I heard a loud ruckus in the parking lot behind me. I turned to see a group of dudes coming out of the McDonald’s with a manager chasing after them. I caught snippets of threats to “go get my ting” (aka “get my gun”) and promises that the police were on the way, then recognized the dudes from around my neighbourhood and knew they were harmless. A few of them started to jump in their cars and get away with pilfered Big Macs, so I turned back to my date. The look on his face was one of pure terror. “It’s OK,” I told him. “Those guys aren’t serious.” He didn’t believe me. “Maybe we should just go before this escalates,” he said, completely frozen save for his green eyes that cautiously watched the commotion behind me. “Nah, really. They’re all talk. So – what were you saying about your last vacation?” I tried to get us back on topic, but he paid me no mind. It was then that I noticed he was doing something very peculiar. He was shrinking his 6’6″ frame down into the bench, assessing the parking lot action behind me, and actually using me as a shield between him and the angry neighbourhood dudes.

“Are you – are you actually trying to hide behind me?” I shifted in my seat and he whispered “Wait – don’t move!” and I knew then that this love story was doomed. “You know what, maybe you’re right. We should probably go.” I started to stand and gather my things, but he was still stuck to the bench. “Well, maybe we should wait until they’re gone – I think I’m parked beside one of them.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, so I hopped up from the table and stalked away. He finally chased after me, unlocking his car doors and sliding into the seat like it was home plate. I got into the car, waving at one of the neighbourhood dudes who stopped cussing to give me a “Good evening, empress,” before resuming again. “Whew, that was crazy,” my date said. I tuned out after that. We got to my place, he tried to sneak a kiss, I shot it down, then headed upstairs to bed.

He called me a couple of times after that, but I rebuffed his talk of another date. The calls stopped and life moved on – but I ran into him at another soca fete a few weeks later.

As I made some friendly talk with him, I noticed something was off. His face looked different. I couldn’t place it, but all of a sudden, there it was.

“Your eyes – they’re brown?”

“Oh yeah – I usually wear my coloured contacts but I’m going au naturel tonight,” he chuckled as if his joke was actually funny.

The Moral Of The Story

Don’t date guys who use you as human shields.

If a tarot card reader tells you you’ll fall in love with a guy with light eyes, be aware that coloured contacts may lead you astray.

And that ex she told me to avoid? We got married. We had a baby. And I call him HomieLuva.

Fin. 

UNAPOLOGETIC: Focusing On The “Self” In Self-Care

SelfCareRevolutionarySelf-care has been a topic of much discussion in my various circles these days. Whether at work, with friends and family, or on social media, many of us – mostly women – are in the process of prioritizing ourselves in order to preserve ourselves.

Just yesterday, I commented on a Facebook posting on the topic with the following:

I have to be very mindful about my own needs and really have to train myself to stop, say no, relax, and rejuvenate. The two biggest things I’ve realized are: 1) for me, self-care doesn’t have to be a huge action – it can be as small as going inside a bathroom stall and doing some deep breathing, or going for a 10 min walk – and 2) getting over the guilt of practicing self-care is crucial – we need to take care of us so we can take care of everything else.

As soon as I hit send, I had an epiphany and quickly added the following:

Actually – though women have tons to take care of, the validity of our self-care still doesn’t need to be contingent on being able to take care of others. We have to take care of ourselves because we owe it to ourselves. That just popped into my head, so I wanted to add on :)

When we tell people – especially women who carry a multitude of concurrent roles and responsibilities – that their need for self-care is valid because it helps them care for others, is that truly self-care?

At the root of it all is the understanding that we need to create space in our lives to rejuvenate and replenish ourselves. It may look like booking a spa treatment. Or taking a walk on a beautiful day. Or buying ourselves something nice. Or saying no to every hot Friday night plan in favor of Netflix & wine after a tough work week. We can honour ourselves and our immediate needs in a way that no one else can, but we often feel guilt around the practice.

If we need to take a day off from work, we feel like we’re letting our team down. If we tell our families that we’re taking an hour to ourselves to unwind with a bubble bath, we feel bad about not being there for their needs. If we disclose our self-care practices to people who mock us for our “indulgence,” we feel like maybe we’re truly being selfish. A method that’s been used to curb this guilt and second-guessing (and to encourage us to continue along the path of self-care) is the phrase “Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others” – and while that’s undoubtedly a valuable asset to making ourselves priorities, it shouldn’t be the only reason we do.

We juggle so many different hats. Parent. Lover. Friend. Coworker. Caregiver. Financial Advisor. Student. Homemaker. We could be wearing any combination of hats at any given time, and self-care is crucial if we’re going to be any good to the people who depend on us. I definitely believe that in order to be there for others, we first have to be there for ourselves. They say you can’t give from an empty cup, so self-care helps us give to others from a place of abundance, not a place of martydom.

HOWEVER.

It still isn’t enough to value self-care solely for the ability it lends us to take care of others.

Isn’t the reverence we have for ourselves enough of a validation for self-care? Isn’t it OK to just say, “I’m doing this for myself” without further explanation? I’ll admit, when I thought about this while writing the aforementioned Facebook comment, I was hit with a nervous flutter in my stomach that signaled the guilt I thought I had swept away. It takes effort as a woman with multiple people depending on her to say “This is for me” instead of “This is for me so that I can be for you.” For those of us who fall prey to the fallacy of the Strong Black Woman trope, it takes effort to separate ourselves from the value we earn by keeping things going. We are prided on our ability to take everything the world throws at us without missing a beat, and we often aren’t afforded the opportunity to drop bits and pieces or the whole load to focus on ourselves, even for a short while. We give ourselves permission for self-care by equating it back to the asset we’ll be to those that need us, and that helps to make it OK. The benefit to others is the easiest defense against cries of indulgence of selfishness, so we grab at it quickly. Forcing myself to move beyond that, and allowing myself to care for myself because I care for myself is a revolutionary act.

As I said on Twitter:


Now, I just need to remember that.

SAVE ROOM: Learning How To Make Space For Life

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I get dramatic about birthdays. I love my birthday, and a personal goal is to accomplish something so incredible in life that May 10th becomes a national (or international!) holiday.

I know I’m dramatic. Luckily for the people who are forced to put up with me, I can step outside of myself and see how ridiculously extravagant I get about each new rotation around the sun.  That being said, this year feels even more profound than usual. I initially chalked it up to needing some positive anticipation – last year was an overwhelming whirlwind of amazing highs and troubling lows, and this year I know I need more stability and growth. But as I thought about it more, I realized this birthday felt so profound because I finally learned a crucial lesson:

I need to make room in my life to let life happen. 

Things have been severely crowded for too long. Moving + baby + work + side hustles + bills + friends + trying not to forget about Bee = a life so stuffed that some days felt downright paralyzing. The most crippling thing was the fact that everything I had gotten myself into, I had chosen to do – so I had no one to blame but myself, and it seemed like no one could help me but myself. Nothing felt optional. I had to go to work. I had to take care of my daughter. I had to pay bills and take care of home repairs. I had to keep up with my freelancing. I had to keep working with the film festivals and magazines and youth groups and projects I was tied to. Everything linked to something else: I kept taking on cool projects because maybe something would pop off and I wouldn’t have to go back to my day job after mat leave. I forced myself to do daily social media management for clients because I needed the extra money to help with diapers and daycare. I felt obligated to try to plan events because I thought I had fallen off and wasn’t “on the scene” anymore like I used to be. Everything seemed indispensable, so while I started feeling stifled, I told myself I couldn’t drop any of it. If I was feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I convinced myself that the problem wasn’t the amount of things I tasked myself with, it was my work ethic. I had to find ways to focus, to be more efficient, to make sure I got things done and done well – in short, I wasn’t kind to myself at all.

Yes – I have an amazing partner in life who shares many of the responsibilities I named above, but when it came down to the things I do outside of home and baby, he wasn’t with me shooting in the gym. The writing, the events, the projects, the work – the choice to do them and the reason why I was doing them lived solely in my head and heart. The pressure I was putting on myself to do them lived there too, so I knew that while HomieLuva is an incredible sounding board, I’d have to initiate any change I wanted in my life on my own.

I started off by doing a basic time audit of my life. My days were full of things to do, but I soon realized that a lot of these things weren’t serving me well anymore. There were things I was doing simply because I told myself I had to, and further – I told myself that to not do them was to be a quitter or a failure. When I was honest about what some of these things were doing for me, I realized they weren’t doing a gotdamn thing except stressing me out. I could barely stand things that used to fill me with excitement, and it was downright depressing. My next realization was that there was a constant, nagging feeling of some awesome opportunity just within my grasp, but my life was so cluttered that there was no room for it. I felt things passing me by and though I couldn’t definitely state what it was that I missed out on, I knew that I literally had no space for anything new – so good things were undoubtedly floating away.

Next, I thought about my current priorities. Taking care of my family, my finances, and investing in myself topped the list. Comparing my priorities to my audit, I realized that a lot of the things I felt obligated to do didn’t fall in line with any of my priorities. They may have had a place at one point in time, but things changed and I was now just forcing a square peg into a round hole. There were things I knew I’d have to say goodbye to, say “not now but maybe later” to, say a firm no to – and I had to say it all immediately. Over the last couple of weeks, emails have gone out, calls have been made, and the things that I needed to say have been said. I’ve finally reclaimed a bit of freedom. I have room to breathe and to just be without having to do, and it’s the best birthday present I could have asked for.

I’ve given myself the gift of leaving room for life. I’m trading in excessive guilt and undue self-imposed pressures for the space to find things to enjoy, inspire me, and help me grow. I’m letting go of things that put some dollars in my bank account, and believing that things are coming that will give me even greater prosperity. I’m clearing things out and making a new foundation, and it feels like I have nowhere to go from here but up.

Let’s toast to fresh starts and swift, sustained ascents. Happy birthday to me.

MISSING IN ACTION: The Silence of Black Organizations That Serve Us

via BlackEnterprise.com

via BlackEnterprise.com

It’s often said that silence is golden. Contrasting with the clamour and din of the world we live in, there’s a beauty in silence; a special solitude in the space that it gives us.

Then, there’s an aspect of silence that stuns in another way. When the world’s noise begs for a voice to respond, that revered solitude festers into neglect and the golden beauty of silence tarnishes into ugliness.

For marginalized people in this city, this country, this world – things aren’t just noisy, they’re deafening. Individual voices raised in retort have done amazing things, but when voices combine in effort, even more impressive things ensue. That’s why for me, at this time, it’s distressing to feel the crushing silence emanating from long-standing Black institutions who have failed to add their voice to our current struggles.

This past weekend, I passed on an invitation to one of Toronto’s – if not Canada’s – premiere Black events. I looked forward to the opportunity to get dolled up and connect with old friends and new people. What I didn’t look forward to was the nausea of watching Toronto’s mayor grace the event with grandiloquent comments celebrating the same demographic victimized by the carding policy he supported a week prior. The cognitive dissonance is unsurprising, yet it’s hard to shake the feelings of frustration and disappointment.

Even more disappointing is the fact that organizations that purport to advocate for Black community/communities and support their advancement have failed to take their place at the current tables of discussion on the issues affecting the people they claim to serve. No representatives at police board meetings. No participation in or organization of town halls. Poor outreach to the community in favour of more insular, self-congratulatory efforts. Refusal to engage in the conversations that community members are asking – no, begging – for. I guess you can chalk some initial silence up to lack of awareness. Then, you can say, “Well, maybe they’ll be present at the next meeting/will have a quote in the next round of media coverage/will issue a statement of their own.” Then, you wait and wait and grasp at nothing but empty silence and realize that their silence is their statement.

The Star’s “Searching for Toronto’s next generation of Black leaders” covers a spate of perspectives on issues affecting advocacy and activism in the city. Why do older leaders hesitate to pass the baton on to younger generations? Is there a misunderstanding of new waves of activism? How do we increase community involvement in various initiatives? This article asks questions and attempts to answer them, highlighting some of the very issues that I feel compound on the function of Black organizations in our communities.

Far too many Black organizations uphold narrow paradigms of respectability, putting an asterisk beside the definition of the demographic they represent. Far too many ascribe to the modus operandi of “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps” without acknowledging that sometimes those very bootstraps are given to us, already frayed and deliberately unable to support our weight. Far too many think that their presence is effort enough, failing to actively engage the individuals and communities around them. Far too many cry that there’s no one new to helm the ship when their white-knuckled clutches on power impede their ability to let new blood in. What we need are organizations that understand, as Audre Lorde said, that “the Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house.” We cannot build an empowered Black identity using the sociopolitical tools that were created to work against us. We need organizations that are truly open to new voices and new ways of doing things; ones that are accessible in a myriad of forms; ones that aren’t afraid to speak up when and where it matters; ones that don’t value photo ops over true progress.

Perhaps some of these organizations are misunderstood. If that’s the case, I truly hope that they do the necessary work to make change and align their internal missions with external perception. Maybe a redefinition of who they serve or a revamp of the hows and whys of doing what they do is needed. Additionally, a reminder needs to be given that there isn’t much room for ego in community work. All critique and criticism isn’t cruel – more often, it’s a sign that your community is invested in what you do and wants you to do even better, so disparaging that response isn’t always a smart move.

Then again, maybe I’m the one who is looking at this all wrong. Maybe I’m expecting things of people and executives and institutions that they aren’t meant to deliver. When it comes to carding or police brutality or fighting for higher minimum wage or support for Black women, maybe I’m waiting for people to speak when they truly have nothing to say. What I do know is this: your silence speaks volumes, and I hear you loud and clear.

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

 

nikkigiovanni

“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.

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