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ETERNAL & EVERLASTING: Rest In Peace, Maya Angelou

Photo via: harlequinteaset.wordpress.com

Photo via: harlequinteaset.wordpress.com

Every once in a while, you come across someone in life who gives off the air of eternity. This could be a person who has preceded and has outlasted many others. It might be a person who may not be present on a daily basis, but consistently pops up in the important nooks and crannies of your life. It may be a person who persevered when life tried and tried to knock them down and drag them out. It may be a person whose wisdom flows like a never-ceasing fountain, always, always providing you with something cool and refreshing when you need it most.

Every once in a while, you may find some such person. Rarely do you find all of these everlasting attributes in one being, but for me, Dr. Maya Angelou possessed them entirely.

The news of her passing stung. Though my common sense knew better, she was always one of the immortals to me – a being who just was and would continue to be until the end of time. It’s a selfish thought, I know – but it’s a testament to the way Ms. Maya gave onto us, both purposefully and unknowingly, for 86 years.

I wasn’t even a teen when I found Ms. Maya. I’m not sure how she came to me, but I remember the day I went to the library, pulled out a crumpled paper scribbled with notes, and asked the librarian for a book called “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” I cracked open that book, drank in her words, and realized that I had been thirsty all that time. Maya satisfied my personal remix of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and filled me with the desire for more. I got my hands on anything Angelou that I could find, and the transformation began. She wasn’t my only guide in life, but Ms. Maya helped me to discover myself while discovering her.

Photo via: vintageblackglamour.tumblr.com

Photo via: vintageblackglamour.tumblr.com

We came from different times and places, different trials and traumas, but Maya Angelou’s works and life story exposed me to an expression of Black womanhood that was new to me. I was at an age where my limbs stretched and extended towards a 6′ frame like hers, and when I didn’t know what to do with all this length and brown skin and a body that demanded a confidence I didn’t yet possess, I had Maya. When I wondered what it meant to own one’s sensuality, I had Maya. When I wasn’t sure if it was OK to be more than one thing in life, I had Maya. Her very existence was a symbol of possibility, and I carried that with me as I grew from a girl to a woman.

Those possibilities were numerous. Because of Maya Angelou, I saw the worth of telling my own stories from my own experiences. My love of writing and literacy grew tenfold thanks in part to her; she made me want to read more and write better, and when I lacked motivation to do the latter, one quick read of her work was like a gentle smack upside the head to pull it together and be as great as I could be. She exhibited vibrance and trained me up in the ways of being unapologetic in my femininity, my Blackness, and the intersections therein. She knew that life was no crystal stair for us, but taught me how to stand in defiance, dare someone to negate my flyness, and say “I’m here anyways.” She showed me how to be better than I was yesterday, and the discovery of new quotes and anecdotes of hers were gifts. She helped me to be phenomenal, to recognize the authenticity in others, and to not be satisfied with surviving – we were meant to thrive. I agreed with her often, but even in disagreement she pushed me to investigate my convictions and stand firm. Her words saved me from heartbreak, and when I was too stubborn to heed her wisdom her words were a salve for my wounds. Through Ms. Maya, I bloomed and was healed – and though the cycles of life found me hurt and closed in a tight bud time and time again, she reminded me that I could always be open, whole, and full.

Seeing Maya Angelou in Toronto a couple of years ago with the invisible cloak of age across her shoulders, I just figured she’d find a way to accommodate. She’d find a new way to write, to speak, to teach, and to inspire when current methods became too taxing, but that would be it. I regarded her as an eternal fixture but never took her for granted as such, because I figured she had forever to grant us new lessons and to uncover new truths about herself and her life. Alas, reality hit me on May 28, 2014 when I learned that she had stepped behind the veil of this existence, and had moved on to the next.

The more I think about it, I realize she didn’t let me down with her position in my mind as an eternal being. She has found a new method of communication. She did find a way to accommodate. She was able to uphold immortal status. She just showed me that she didn’t have to be here in the physical to do it – her work and her life story will do it for her.

Rest well, Ms. Maya.

BEYOND BORDERS: Why This Canadian Cares About Trayvon

New York City: Hundreds of activists demand justice for Trayvon Martin afte

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I have a feeling that July 13, 2013 will go down in history as one of “those” days. You know – one of those days where we sit back, reminisce, and ask each other: “Where were you the day George Zimmerman was acquitted?”

Where was I? I was in the east end of Toronto, laughing over Menchies frozen yogurt at 11pm with one of my homegirls. I pulled up Twitter to show her a video saved in my favourites, and saw tweet after tweet expressing pain, anger, sadness, and disbelief over the outcome of the Zimmerman trial. Our laughs turned to silence as we both delved into our phones, Menchies melting, while we read and caught up on what had occurred. Days have passed, media runs have been made, protests and vigils have been held, Trayvon is still gone – but I feel like we’re all still acclimating to life after the verdict.

I live in Canada – the proverbial land of maple syrup, poutine, and multiculturalism. I’ve had more than a few people ask me why I was so invested in Trayvon Martin’s murder. “It happened in the States!” they said. “You know how gun-crazy and racist they are down there.” Early discussions of Trayvon’s case elicited little more than a tsk tsk and furrowed brow, then a reminder that “We have it SO much better up here.”

While I don’t want to make this post an entire shitstorm of Canada’s social issues, be aware that racism and bigotry – the catalysts behind Trayvon’s murder – are not limited to the United States of America. We have George Zimmermans aplenty here – they may not all have easy access to firearms, but the diseased mentality and abuse of power is the same. You really have to look no further than the injustices against our First Nations people to understand, but the omission of Mathieu Da Costa from history books, cross burnings in Nova Scotia, and suspicions of police involvement in Junior Alexander Manon’s death all paint a picture that many of us choose to ignore. We do have certain things better here. I do love this country and am happy that my parents chose to immigrate here. I am proud to travel the world and say that Canada is my home. However, some people want to imagine that we stiff-arm racism here the way we stiff-arm hip hop artists that try to enter the country (how’s that for irony?), and it just isn’t true. Honest dialogues about race in Canada are desperately needed.

Rallies And Vigils Continue To Be Held For Trayvon Martin In New York City

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Back to why I’ve been so invested in Trayvon Martin. Driving lessons from my father included a special class on how to handle yourself when (not if) police pull you over for no apparent reason. Growing up, I gave myself the job of protecting my brother from the assumptions made about him through the lens of prejudice, and I haven’t been able to let that fierce protectress role go. Having been the passenger many a time when HomieLoverFriend was pulled over for a DWB (driving while Black), my fury only increased while his detachment kept him cool. It was that cool detachment that infuriated me yet again last year. He walked into the house much later than usual, and explained he had been detained on the street by police. As he ran to catch his bus after work, a police cruiser cut him off by driving up on the sidewalk in front of him. Apparently, a Black man running down the street roused so much suspicion that he was forced to provide identification and a sufficient explanation before he was allowed to go. The energies that surrounded Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman that fateful night exist around me and mine as we move through the world on a daily basis. Geography or the colour of my passport don’t change that fact.

I first wrote about Trayvon Martin in a piece on this blog last year. That post led to an ugly, still-unresolved incident where I was accused of being a racist and told that some “very important people” felt extremely offended by my views. I’m ashamed to say that the incident almost led to the end of ’83 To Infinity, but I quickly decided against that. Trayvon’s story was too important, and I came to understand that my telling of his story made people uncomfortable. Those people wanted me to put their comfort over my own; wanted me to take their feelings into consideration while they trampled on mine; wanted me to get back in their box of how they thought I should act, speak, and behave. Again, Trayvon’s story – like the stories of so many other Black lives lost – is too important, and I’ll never regret my choice of sharing it in my words.

So much has been said about Trayvon’s murder, the court case, and the Zimmerman verdict. To my American friends who struggle under the systems and laws that perpetuate this violence, please know that the world is watching. While ignorance transcends any man-made border, love and support do as well – we are with you.

Toronto: There is a peaceful protest in support of Trayvon Martin scheduled for TODAY at 2pm in front of the Eaton’s Centre. If you attend, please do ensure to share photos/video on any of your social media channels!

EVENT RECAP: Herbert Carnegie Future Aces Foundation Gala

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Names are interesting. One of the most important signifiers of our identity, they hold an immense weight as we move through life.

The funny thing is – if we forget who the person is behind the name, that signifier becomes somewhat of an empty placeholder in history. It starts to roll off your tongue just as easily as your order from Tim Hortons or Dunkin Donuts, and we slowly start to forget what and who that name actually represents. I was reminded of this last Thursday at the Herbert Carnegie Future Aces Foundation’s Amazing Aces Awards.

In honour of Herbert H. Carnegie – one of Canada’s first Black professional hockey players – the Herbert Carnegie Future Aces Foundation was created in 1987 as a means to support and empower youth. Through partnerships with schools and community figures, the foundation has provided youth in the GTA with scholarships, self-esteem workshops, and mentorship. While the annual gala is used to highlight exceptional youth and people in the community who embody the Future Aces creed, this year’s gala was a bit different. The current Executive Director of the foundation, Ms. Bernice Carnegie, stepped down after 17 years at the helm. The gorgeous night was largely in her honour, and highlighted her passions and achievements within the foundation. I was happy to attend the event as the gala’s official blogger and social media maven, and was ready to soak in the entire night.

Held at the lovely Grand Bacchus Banquet Hall in Scarborough, the gala was beautifully arranged. A silent auction and string quarter graced the front hall where people mixed, mingled, and posed for photos before heading into the banquet hall.

Dinner was a delicious spread of hot stations featuring fish, samosas, sushi, salads, cheeses, and more, so I had to make sure to fill up my plate and enjoy! Live music filled the room and attendees mingled with people like gala hosts Marci Ien (of CTV’s Canada AM) and Kerry Lee Crawford (of G 98.7FM’s Steps After Dark), the Hon. Lt. Gov. David Onley, and Marcia Brown of Trust 15. I saw a lot of familiar faces, and enjoyed getting caught up with everyone before the main event began.

Bernice Carnegie and the Honourable Lieutenant Governor David Onley

Bernice Carnegie and the Honourable Lieutenant Governor David Onley

After the dinner portion of the evening, guests took their seats and got ready for the show. Opening with a cute father/son performance from Errol and Shay Lee, the inspirational theme was well-established for the night. After a few official welcomes from the Hon. Lt. Gov, MPP Michael Coteau, and others, Marci and Kerry Lee took us right into the Amazing Aces award. Recipients like Nicole Coco LaRain (motivational speaker and artist), Rudolph Clarke (writer, lawyer, founder of the Black Law Student’s Association of Canada), and Clive Hylton (former President of the Markham African Caribbean Association) were honoured, and it was amazing to learn about some of the incredible people who have done great work in our city.

Now, I mentioned names and the importance of them because of what I learned about Herbert Carnegie, and in turn his daughter Bernice. While many people took their turn at the podium to share the wisdom and inspiration they received from Ms. Carnegie in her tenure as Executive Director (including a heartfelt speech from her daughter that had me ready to tear up), it was hearing from her in her own words that showed me just how much of a force she is. Her passion for youth and her mission to continue her father’s legacy were not at all lost on me. She was a dynamic speaker, and captured everyone’s attention – not merely because it was the polite thing to do since the evening was in her honour, but because you couldn’t help but stay fixated to her as she spoke and moved about the stage (and dropped it like it was hot to James Brown’s I Feel Good).

Bernice receiving a standing ovation and hug from Marci Ien

Bernice receiving a standing ovation and hug from Marci Ien

With the wonders of technology, I was able to hear from Herbert Carnegie himself – even though he passed away last year at the age of 92. Video and audio captured the man whose name I had known, but whose legacy I did not, shamefully. One of Canada’s first Black professional hockey players (and scouted as one of the best of any skin colour, though racism blocked him from playing in the NHL). An honourary York Region police chief. Investors Group’s first Black employee. Member of the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada. A man with both a public school and a community centre named after him. These are just a few of his accolades that I learned about at the gala, and witnessing the power behind Herbert Carnegie’s soft voice and kind face motivated me to learn more about him and his foundation.

With Bernice Carnegie stepping down from her role, the Herbert Carnegie Future Aces Foundation will now be in the capable hands of Tka Pinnock, the incoming Executive Director. The proverbial torch was passed on at the end of the gala, with Herbert Carnegie’s words “Be my eyes, be my heart, be my voice” lighting the way. The foundation has had a successful and important history, and will undoubtedly have a bright and exciting future ahead. My “official blogger” duties may have ended that night, but I look forward to supporting the Herbert Carnegie Future Aces Foundation in the days and weeks to come.

Incoming Executive Director Tka Pinnock

Incoming Executive Director Tka Pinnock

Check out the Foundation’s official website, their Facebook, and Twitter – and search the #futureaces hashtag to see tweets from the night!

Are you familiar with Herbert H. Carnegie? Were you at the gala? Have you been involved with the foundation? What prominent figure are you aware of, but would like to learn more about?

BEE-DAY #29: Why This Year Is Like No Other

At 6:05pm on May 10th, I officially turned 29. It’s my Bee-Day, and I have to be honest – this was the most emotional one in a long time.

I’m not the type to shy away from my birthday. I love new beginnings. I love the possibilities that each new year brings. I love parties. I love gifts. I love birthday attention. It seems almost every awkward icebreaker I’ve participated in at networking events asks “What’s your favourite holiday?” As self-centred as it may seem, “May 10th” is always my answer. Lol. What can I say? I LOVE my birthday!

So, what makes this birthday such a standout in my mind?

Well, it’s the last year in a decade, and I’ll be saying goodbye to my twenties soon. Farewell to drunken nights, summer flings, reckless shopping, and livin’ la vida YOLO – hello to home ownership, sensible vehicle choices, and slowed metabolism. Or something like that. 29 is a great age to look back at the journey thus far, and get ready for the next part of the ride. My 9th and 19th years were amazing, so I’m predicting more of the same with 29.

As much as I love the “me me me!” attention I acquire on my birthday, I know I’m not the only person born on May 10th. Two very important people in my life, my cousins Marc and Michael, were also born on the same day, same year, and I can’t think of better people to share my special day with. I’ve talked about my cousins before, especially Michael and the impact he left on me when he passed away in November. Today is the first birthday without him, so the bittersweet taste of the day has been lingering in my heart and mind since I started my annual Bee-Day countdown. Every time I excitedly referenced my upcoming birthday in conversation, I’d feel a pang of sadness – a reminder that he wouldn’t be here for birthday texts, cake, and jokes about me being their honourary triplet sister. In texts back and forth with Marc today, he reminded me that Mike was still here with us today – and he’s so right. So, happy birthday, Mike! 

On Twitter and Facebook, I’ve been alluding to the fact that I would be ringing in Bee-Day #29 in a way that I never have before. What I meant by that requires a separate post of its own (which is coming!), but I’ll share a bit with you now. Bright and early on my birthday morning, I opened a few gifts (hello NARS blush! hello silver bracelet!), then headed downtown to a local hospital and had surgery. Not the usual birthday celebration, huh? I’ve referenced my cancer scare before, but that wasn’t the end of the story. I was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous cervical lesion last month, and as my doctor wanted to expedite my treatment, surgery was scheduled right away – with the lucky date landing on my birthday. People asked me why I wouldn’t just speak up and ask the doctor to change the date. The thought crossed my mind, but I kept the scheduled day for two reasons. One being that as soon as I know something is wrong, and as soon as there is a plan in place to take care of it, I don’t like to delay. Especially anything related to cancer. Secondly, I’m a strangely symbolic person – so having this procedure done on my birthday even further strengthens the meme of ‘new beginnings’. I still have some treatment to go through, but after this surgery, I’m even more motivated to live a healthier life. This diagnosis (which came almost a year to the day from Michael’s leukemia diagnosis) has changed my mentality indefinitely. What a way to bring in 29!

So, what’s next? Here I am, standing at the doorway of my 29th year, about to step over the threshold and into a new, exciting, and positive journey. 28 wasn’t the greatest – though the highlight was my wedding and all the good things that brought, overall last year was stressful and sad. I’m hoping 29 rectifies that – wait. I know 29 is not only going to rectify that, but it’s going to bring awesome and amazing things! All gold and sparkly and happy everything this year!

Are you a birthday fiend like me? What has been your favourite birthday thus far? 

If you’re in Toronto, don’t forget to hit up Dazzling Lounge tonight for Fashionably Late’s Timeline party! I’ll still be shakin’ a leg, but I might have to leave the table dancing to next year…I’ve been taking doctor’s orders to rest up, but best believe I’m not gonna miss my Bee-Day celebrations!  Come on out to watch me do the best subdued two-step you’ve ever seen!

 

Trayvon Martin: A Reminder That “Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere”

 

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote is all too fitting today.

I’ve been contemplating for a long time about how to approach this post. You don’t know how many drafts have been conceived, edited, deleted, and re-written, but I feel such a strong connection to the story of Trayvon Martin’s murder, and I knew I had to use this site as an outlet.

By now, I would only hope that everyone reading this has already heard about Trayvon Martin. If not, I’ll give you the Coles’ notes edition: On February 26th, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon was visiting his father and step-mother’s home in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. He left to walk to the corner store and purchased a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea. As he walked back home, he encountered George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Neighbourhood Watch captain. Zimmerman spotted Trayvon walking through the area and called 911 to report a “suspicious” person. He was instructed to remain in his home, and that 911 was dispatching officers to the area to investigate. Instead of heeding their advice, Zimmerman got in his SUV with his loaded gun and followed Trayvon. What happened next is unknown to everyone except Trayvon and Zimmerman, but within a matter of minutes, Zimmerman shot Trayvon. Police arrived on the scene to the boys’ dead body. Zimmerman admitted to the shooting but cried self-defense (they allegedly engaged in a physical altercation). Weeks later, Trayvon’s loved ones are still reeling from his death, and at the time of this post, Zimmerman has neither been charged nor arrested.

I’m not sure where to begin, and there aren’t enough synonyms for “angry” to describe how I feel. I’m pissed that when Trayvon’s father reported him missing, the cops chose to bring a photo the next day of their ‘John Doe’ with blood pouring out of his mouth. I’m incensed that Zimmerman’s pathology of paranoia allowed him to find a 17-year-old boy with a bag of Skittles and bottle of iced tea so threatening. I’m enraged that so many minorities have dreams of escaping the violence of the “hood” or the “ghetto”, yet moving on up like the Jeffersons brings it’s own new terrors. I am beside myself at the fact that a young, innocent boy is dead, and his killer is free – especially when we all know that if roles were reversed, there would be absolutely no mercy for Trayvon.

Florida college students rallying for Zimmerman’s arrest

Photo source

I love the naïveté of people who believe we live in a post-racial society, or those folks who think that racism does not exist in Canada. I’ve called some of those people friends, acquaintances, and co-workers – and one thing they have in common is that they’ll never have to teach the young men in their lives how to act around police and other authority figures like I have. The same way society loves to remind women that it’s our responsibility to not get raped, society creates the same vortex in which Black men have to shoulder the responsibility to not get pulled over for a DWB (driving while Black), arrested or killed. Where is the demand for control from those who abuse authority, assault, and kill us? I’ve read that Trayvon shouldn’t have been wearing a hoodie, that he should have clearly explained to Zimmerman that he lived in the area, that he should have, should have, should have…I wish those people would instead see that Zimmerman should have listened when the 911 dispatcher advised him to stay home. Maybe then he wouldn’t have had to “defend himself” against a young Black boy armed with Skittles and iced tea. I’m not sure how you admit to pursuing someone and then hide behind the legal arm of self-defense when it becomes convenient. Between Trayvon and Zimmerman, who really needed defending?

Late last Friday, 911 calls from the day Trayvon was killed were released. I still haven’t been able to listen to the recordings, but all reports describe the same three things. Someone crying and pleading for help. A gunshot. Then complete silence. Zimmerman made sure to state once cops arrived that he “was calling for help and no one came” – but no one seems to believe that Zimmerman could have been the voice pleading for help on the recording. Community residents who placed 911 calls all described the voice of a child, and reports state that when Trayvon’s mother heard the recording, she ran from the room in horror. Cops stated that they have found no evidence to dispute Zimmerman’s claims of self-defense, so no action has been taken to arrest him. This is where things stand, nearly a month after Trayvon’s killing.

There are a few things that I wish:

  • I wish that my Facebook and Twitter feeds were flooded with Trayvon Martin details like they were when Kony hit the scene a few weeks ago.
  • I wish I had a better way of managing my rage when hearing about my husband being accosted by police because he “looked suspicious”, or my brother being followed and pulled over for no specific reason.
  • I wish I could ignore the fact that Blacks are consistently snatched up and put under the jail for far less than Zimmerman’s crime.
  • I wish that I didn’t do the ugly snort-laugh when people tell me that justice will be done. It hasn’t yet. I’m not holding my breath.
  • I wish that there wasn’t a racial division in response to this case (in my world). Compared to the reaction of minorities, a number of White friends/colleagues were silent when I spoke about Trayvon. Sure – race might make you uncomfortable. But a child being murdered should garner something more than silence. If you were upset about Kony, you should be upset about this…
  • I wish Trayvon Martin wasn’t yet another name added to the list of Black males needlessly slaughtered like cattle. Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Emmett Till…

I usually try to write my posts with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion (all you writing buffs don’t laugh at me if I don’t always succeed!), but this post was written freely and unapologetically. My response to Trayvon’s murder has been so organic, so primal, so cellular to my being, and I haven’t been able to shake it yet. We’ll see how things play out in the days to come, but I continuously send prayers out to Trayvon’s soul, the Martin family, and our society as a whole. Hopefully Trayvon will see that while his death was completely premature and wholly unnecessary, it will not be in vain.

Want more details on Trayvon’s story? Read here or here (or go ‘head on and see what that Google search function is hittin’ fo’). Looking for a way to get involved? Change.org is circulating a petition for the prosecution of George Zimmerman – if you’re so inclined, sign it here. Also, Twitter has started to mobilize a movement to write into Bill Lee’s office (Chief of Police in Sanford, FL) – for details on that (I will be writing my letter tonight) – go here.

Note: As of 11pm on Monday night, CNN reported that federal prosecutors and the FBI have finally opened an investigation into Trayvon’s murder.

Any thoughts on this case? Share them below. And as always, thank you for reading.  

Remembrance: In Honour Of Whitney Houston

Photo source

“We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.” – Chuck Palahniuk

I had been looking forward to this Saturday ever since I crawled into bed last Sunday and prepared for another long work week. I started this day out with the highest of hopes, but had no clue it would turn out the way it did. I got to sleep in. I got to do some much-needed housework. I got to put on some D’Angelo and wash my hair with the house to myself while Homieloverfriend was out for his usual Saturday runnings. Then, a miscommunication between him and I led to one of those arguments where I scream and cry, and he sits silent until I’ve tired myself out. I felt that the anticipation of this day had been too much…so obviously it all had to go wrong.

I got the news on the way to the Harbourfront Centre’s DJ Skate Party where we had planned to meet up with friends. There I was, sitting icy cold and steely-eyed in the car, the cloud of our earlier argument almost suffocating me in the car as we drove. Playing on my phone, I refreshed my Twitter feed, and saw Tweet after Tweet: Whitney Houston was dead.

I was floored. Whitney was one of those people who just was. She was just always there, and would always be there, through good times and bad. The loss was devastating. A child has lost her mother. The world has lost an incomparable gift. I lost a piece of my childhood. Like so many of my friends, I grew up with Whitney’s voice floating through my home. Dad had her singles and albums on 45s, so on the weekends when he’d play tunes,  Whitney was ALWAYS in the playlist. When my parents divorced, my mom would play Whitney songs to console herself and drown the pain in that crystal clear voice. I think Whitney was able to say things in her songs that my mom couldn’t say herself. And when it was time to party? Oh, nary a celebration went by in our home without my mom doin’ the Butt to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”. My mom can’t dance, y’all – but she did not care once that song came on…and when I hear it today, I can’t help but smile.

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Obviously, the last major celebrity death that everyone recalls today is MJ. But for me, this death feels more similar to when Aaliyah passed. I always looked at Michael Jackson as a mythical creature with otherworldly aura and talent, but I saw myself in Aaliyah and Whitney. A little, skinny brown girl who could see these other little, skinny brown girls on TV – they were points of reference for me as I grew up as a young Black girl. Whitney, I think due to the age difference, represented what I wanted to be. She was a diva, a queen, a regal, passionate, and once-in-a-lifetime being who had such immense power tucked away in that tiny body. When she opened her mouth, she blew me away. When she was on TV, you pressed pause on your life to watch and listen. I couldn’t sing worth a damn, but wanted to find my niche in life where I could also be regal. I could also be a queen. I could also be powerful and one-of-a-kind. Whitney represented those aspirations for me, and will continue to embody them.

Yes, Whitney had rough times. Times that we may not ever know the full depths of, but times that many of us feel entitled to judge, dismiss, and mock. Was I disappointed? Hell yes. I was even guilty of judging a time or two. I couldn’t understand how someone who seemed to have it all, and seemed to be in control of it all, could let it slip between her fingers so easily. None of it made sense. Yes, weaker beings may have succumbed to the pressures of having God-given talent used for man-made fame, but not the Queen! Not Whitney! When she started making the moves to attempt to return to the glory of her former self, I was proud. Both the voice and the woman on the TV screen were grittier than I had known, but she was still that regal diva. I still couldn’t turn away, because I knew that the piece of her that I identified with was still there.

In the car when I found out that the news of Whitney’s passing was true, I immediately flashed to thoughts of my cousin, thoughts of my own mortality, thoughts of what the legacy will be that I will leave behind. Thoughts of how just moments before, I had been sulking over what seemed to be the worst Saturday ever – but I realized I was still here, I was still breathing, and I still had a chance to express love and do right and make great things happen with whatever time I have here on Earth. I wish Whitney still had more time to express love and do right and make great things happen, but I will be forever thankful for the memories of the times that she did all those things, and more.

Rest in peace, Whitney. 

Happy Birthday, Bob!

February 6th will always hold a special place in my heart. Today marks the birthday of the man who has been one of my biggest sources of inspiration. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a connection to Robert Nesta Marley and his music, but my bond with him is almost familial.

You see, Bob Marley bears a striking resemblance to my paternal family members – so Baby Bee thought that the portrait we had of Bob in our living room was one of my own father. Mom tells me that when I finally understood that it wasn’t my Dad, I figured he was my uncle. Dad would play his music every Sunday, and I would listen, look at the photo, and point and smile – thinking that this man was connected to me by blood. As I got older, I came to understand that this man and I were not directly related – but by then I had learned enough about him to know that family or not, an indelible connection was there.

Bob’s music has been part of my life’s soundtrack for as long as I can remember. His quotes have both calmed and motivated me. He satisfied a thirst for knowledge that I didn’t know I had when I started researching Rastafari. He showed me the complexities of the human spirit – who else could come across as an ethereal otherworldly being and a flawed, earthly man at the same time?

Y’all don’t understand – or maybe you do after this post – but I love this man.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite Bob songs – it was one of our first dance songs at my wedding (I say “one of” because we did this mash-up thing, and…yeah. I’ll explain another time!), and it’s one of the best songs to play first thing in the morning, in my humble opinion. Happy birthday, Bob!

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Do you have a favourite Bob Marley song? I swear I call about 90% of his songs “my favourite”, but I have issues when it comes to Bob and the Wailers :)

Smooth Pebbles In Still Rivers: Dedicated To Michael

When I moved to Toronto, one of the things I was fascinated with was the Queen Street Bridge over the Don River. I couldn’t for the life of me understand the words inscribed with wrought iron: “This river I step in is not the river I stand in.” I thought it was some pretty poetic prose, but had no clue what it meant. Later, after doing some random reading, I came across a quote from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who said the following:

“Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers .”

“Everything changes and nothing remains still… and… you cannot step twice into the same stream”

“We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not.”

It was like a lightbulb finally clicked on, and I understood: I’m going through a river of change. I’m not angsty like I was during puberty, and I’m not yearning for days gone by like I might during mid-life crisis. If I use Heraclitus’ quotes, I feel as though I was standing in a still river 10 months ago, when a smooth pebble was dropped in. The little waves became huge swells, and I know that when the river quiets down again, it won’t be the same. And neither will I. That pebble? My cousin Michael.

Michael stuntin' at my wedding

It started with a text from my brother in the last days of March 2011. Michael wasn’t feeling well, had gone to the ER, and tests were being run. Next, news that he was diagnosed with leukemia. Then, a call the day before I left for a business trip to Vegas – Michael was on life-support. As if leukemia wasn’t bad enough, he also had a life-threatening infection that was causing his organs to shut down. In an effort to preserve what strength he had left, he was put in a medically induced coma. This all happened in less than 48 hours. I told mom I was coming home, and Vegas could kiss my backside – until, she told me that before Michael went under, he told her to tell me I HAD to go. He was proud of me and what I had accomplished in my career, and under his orders, I wasn’t allowed to come home until I went and handled my corporate business. So I went to Vegas, came back to Toronto days later, and drove straight home as soon as I got off the plane.

In the months that passed, I watched Michael fight harder than anyone I had ever seen. He damn sure won a lot too. He beat the infection and woke up from the coma ready for war. Machines to breathe for him, flush his kidneys for him, live for him were disconnected one by one as he regained the functions necessary to live on his own. The seemingly never-ending cycle of antibiotics, chemotherapy, and blood tests began as he fought the leukemia, but through it all he never once complained. He never once solicited pity. He never once said “Why me?” With everything that was thrown at him simply because of the magical work of cells and science, he never once exhibited anything but pure determination and strength.

He made it to my wedding, y’all. When doctors said he wouldn’t survive the infection, he did. When they said the chemo drugs would make him too weak to even go outside, he did (after 3.5 months in a hospital room). When we were unsure if he’d be stable enough to make the trip to Toronto for my big day, he proved us all wrong and showed up front and centre, slaying lesser beings in his fly new suit. He did what he wanted to do. He didn’t go along with what he was told he could do. God…I was in such awe of him.

He wasn’t the only one who had me amazed. His closest family, his identical twin brother Marc and his parents were the definition of unwavering strength. My mom kept her promise to Michael of visiting him in hospital every day, no matter what. My brother expressed emotions that I’ve never seen him express while his best friend taught us all about life. The hospital waiting room was all at once a therapy session, a support group, a comedy show, a concert hall, and a quiet space. The whole experience left me speechless.

                 

Love.

Brothers.

Twinz Mansion movements.

Michael laid down his armour on November 3rd, 2011. As with everything else during this process, Michael left us on his own terms. Once he was satisfied to know that we knew he tried his hardest and fought with everything he had, he closed his eyes and finally got some much-deserved rest. While I prayed incessantly that we wouldn’t have to sacrifice him in order to learn the lessons that he taught us, that’s how things played out. Part of me doesn’t mind, because I can only imagine how tired he was. Not only did he fight against everything that was thrown his way during his illness, but he was a teacher to us all. He single-handedly changed thought processes, life goals, personal paradigms, hearts, minds, and souls of everyone who came in contact with him. That, my friends, is a lot of work for one man to do. 

My blog is called ’83 To Infinity. If you read the About page, you’ll get some understanding on what I was going for with that name. However, I had a bit of additional insight at Michael’s visitation. You see, Michael, Marc and I were all born on the same day: May 10th, 1983. I was saying to my uncle that I was rocked by all of this because Michael and I were the same exact age, and had been on the earth for the exact same amount of time. Now, Michael was gone onto the next phase of being, and I was still here. What was I going to do with the rest of my time here? How was I going to honour him and entertain him as he watched over me? What was I going to do now so that I could leave a mark for others, the way Michael did for me? We started in ’83, and if I have my way, Michael and I will be making waves in rivers to infinity.

Because of Michael’s lessons, I can’t complain anymore. I can’t take things for granted anymore. I can’t settle anymore. I have to go for what I want, regardless of what anyone may say. I have to be strong. I have to carry on his strength, his determination, his optimism. It’s the least I can do for him. Michael is that smooth pebble that dropped into my still river, and I will thank him for that every day of my life. You did it, homie.

So, there you have it, folks. Even though the blog was already 3 months old, Michael gave me that confirmation when I thought about the possibilities of what I was left to do here until I see him again. Have you ever had a smooth pebble drop into your still river? What did you learn, and how have you changed? 

Jumbled Thoughts: I Hope You’ll Understand

Photo via Women On The Fence

I’m struggling, y’all.

What I wanted to do was finish up a blog post about my (too short) time volunteering at the Balata Government School in St. Lucia, and how I’ve since been inspired to do more global charity work. I wanted to tell you guys about how the Principal of the school whispered to me that she was extra happy we came, because “the children never see anyone come here who is the same complexion as them”. I wanted to have a discussion on global volunteering and the perceived lack of minority participants…but for the last few days, I’ve been dealing with the loss of my cousin, who passed away late last week from leukemia.

I haven’t dealt with a death this close to me in a long time, so I’m not sure what to do with myself these days. Compounding this is that part of me is still on Cloud 9 from the honeymoon, which means that my mind is everywhere except on concrete things like work, school, and blogging. It’s a weird place to be in.

Anyways – I put it on Oprah’s OWN channel and was watching the last half of her Life Class episode.  She featured a clip of Dr. Randy Pausch, the famous college professor who gave a “Last Lecture” in 2007 after he was diagnosed with recurring pancreatic cancer. I had heard of Dr. Pausch, but never watched his lecture, which went viral and has since been viewed by millions. I just found it ironic that today, when I’m going through what’s been the toughest day so far, Lady O reels me in just in time to catch a bit of this lecture – by an amazing man whose thoughts and demeanour mirrored that of my cousin so well.

I hope I get my focus back soon. You may or may not see regular posts from me in the next little while, since I’ll be heading out of town to join my family and celebrate my cousin’s life. I love this little blog though, and since writing is my catharsis, I hope I can post something, even if it’s something superficial :)

I want to write about my amazing cousin. I learned too much from him not to share with y’all. In the meantime, please check out Dr. Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” – it’s about 75 minutes long, so set aside some time. And don’t worry – it is NOT depressing!

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Thank you guys for reading – I really appreciate the comments, tweets, Facebook messages, and even just running into someone who says they read this lil blog :) I hope you’re inspired by Dr. Pausch’s lecture!

Suede…How I Miss You

Can I wax nostalgic for a minute? Suede Magazine was my ISH, and I miss it with my whole magazine-loving heart.

Do you remember Suede? Launching back in 2004, this was a magazine geared towards the smart, savvy, fashionable, crazysexycool Black woman – targeted to the ones too old for Seventeen but too young for Ebony.

I found my first copy of Suede on a shopping trip to the States (they have ALL the good stuff *pout*), and when I opened up those first few pages, it was an epiphany of “angels singing from the heavens” proportions. Never before had I seen anything media-related that resonated with me as strongly as Suede did. With its incredible layouts, the oversized magazine was best displayed laid out on a central coffee table. I never disrespected Suede by tossing them on a bookshelf or (even worse) in a bathroom magazine rack. It just wasn’t right.

Amazing visuals:

Interesting articles:

Intelligent reporting:

Suede had it all. Girls who looked like me? People who thought like me? Had the same goals as me? Not only did I identify with the mag, but I was able to learn from it as well. Sitting at home in my predominantly White hometown of London, Ontario, Suede let me see that I wasn’t the only Black chick who wanted to live a fabulous, unapologetic life filled with intelligence, sexiness, laughter, love, and overall flyness.

Initially released as a quarterly publication, Suede made the leap to move to monthly printing in 2005. Unfortunately, printing was put on hiatus due to a lack of advertising support. Only 4 issues were printed (of which I own three and will never dispose of), and Suede became a memory.

Even though we all know that print journalism has suffered with the popularity of the Internet, there’s nothing like flipping through the pages of a new, glossy magazine. Between various blogs and websites, I can somewhat create the feeling I got from Suede, but that magazine just had everything in one place.

I dedicate this song to Suede. Saaang it, Mr. Hall:

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Are you a magazine fiend like me? What were/are your favourites? Did you read Suede?  Did R. Kelly really swagga-jack Aaron Hall, or was Aaron just salty back in the 90s? Important questions, people!

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