Last year I performed “A Black Woman Nothing Else” poem during the Dada Rafiki Sisterhood celebration that I produced in October 2017 at the Aronoff Center. I typically end the celebration with “My Sista, My Friend” song but this year I wanted to share a deeper part of my heart with the audience attending that evening. I originally published the poem in my Between You and Me book in 1989 when I lived in Oceanside, California. I had titled the book “Between You and Me” because that volume was a releasing of my soul– you know when you’re having that personal conversation that leaves you feeling vulnerable– that talk that you can only share with someone really close to you.
There was also something special about the poem. In 2002 it transcended its beginnings and I added a song underneath the layers of words. Many people had heard the music but never knew a song went with it. I grew up in the early 60’s when it wasn’t popular to embrace our African roots. We were so mis-educated at the schools that we went to so the only Africans we saw were those on the front of a National Geographic magazine. And they were typically naked so if someone called you African, those were fighting words. Being called “Blackie, Baldie and other derogatory words was no joke either.
I wrote A Black Woman Nothing Else poem to affirm myself. It was a lesson that I had learned from a sister that helped to transform my life. She did it with her words– telling me that I was beautiful… telling me that I was smart… Telling me that I was talented and so much more–
When my head was hung down– she affirmed me with her words. When I was sad– she affirmed me with her words. When I told her that folks were talking about me worse than a dog– she affirmed me with her words. When I did something goo– she affirmed me with her words! She kept doing that until a hung down head began to rise up– until sad eyes began to glisten with life and love– and she affirmed me by encouraging and teaching me to affirm myself. She showed me how to do it! (How to get in that mirror and say I’m beautiful and even sing it to the roof top until it resonates within my soul and comes out to impact those around me. I still sing to the rooftop in my home today!
Affirm = sustain, uphold, support, encourage.
As I prepared for Dada Rafiki last year, I wanted to make sure that the sisters and brothers knew a little of my story. Life hasn’t always been a crystal stair but I’ve still got some sisters that use their words to build me up… and that message in these words are as true for me today as it was over 20 years ago when I first wrote the words for I’m still “A Black Woman Nothing Else… Enjoy!
A Black Woman, Nothing Else
There used to be a time when
I was ashamed of my skin.
I received tormenting jokes
from all of my friends.
Of course it wasn’t done
to make me feel this way
But being black gave me much dismay.
“African, charcoal, Black Baby”,
I would hear.
But no one even noticed or knew
that I had silent tears.
Those names became nicknames and
I’d hear them every day at school
‘cause when I was young and growing up
I’d play by my peers’ rules.
One day when I was still young
my father left us all
and married a white woman
who beckoned his every call.
I was really ashamed
of my skin then,
I thought it was very bad,
I thought the white woman
which I could never have.
But one day when I was still young
I met a black lady darker than I was,
She cherished and boasted that her
color was a gift from above.
She told me that I was beautiful –
something no one had ever done.
She said, “your skin is
so black and smooth-
which shows the
perfecting of the sun”.
She said, “To match the
pretty black skin
your teeth are white as snow
and I’m sure that you will show them
everywhere that you go”.
Every day she would tell me this
and her words began to spread.
They came from other people
I never even met.
The words of my friends changed to,
“Let me feel your face
and let me see you grin”-
for sister, you are beautiful-
be proud of the color of your skin.
Now, I’m not ashamed of my skin
though obstacles it may bring.
I proclaim to the world that I am
A Black Woman,
the element of spring.
I blossom with happiness
and pride within myself
For I am A Black Woman
and I wish to be nothing else.