Still “A Black Woman Nothing Else”

Annie performingLast 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

had something

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.

 

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A Real Face of Poverty

I went to the store yesterday to pick up a few healthy items for my refrigerator.  I didn’t have a large selection of grocery stores to chose from because I live in Roselawn, a neighborhood close to becoming “a food desert”— where there are no fresh fruits and vegetables available.  I had to choose from corner stores, “Save A Lot” (with limited fresh fruits & vegetables), “Walgreens” and  “Dollar Tree” (where everything in the store cost $1.00 an item).

Krogers left our neighborhood a long time ago and the nearest one would have taken up too much of my gas and energy to get to.  It was snowing heavy and I was pretty sick; I was coughing and sneezing– so needless to say, this sista chose Dollar Tree to shop for my needed food items. I really didn’t have a lot of money to spend because I’ve been trying to cut  my food budget. I’ve been on this quest to eat more healthier– to be honest– I’m trying my best to move to a plant-based diet and be more conscious of what I’m eating without breaking the bank.

I walked to the back of the Dollar Tree store to get some bags of frozen fruit.  My plan was to find some frozen mango or pineapples.  Well, when I got to the back, there were several empty shelves and most of the frozen fruit was gone.  This young mother was there and she was literally throwing most of the frozen fruit bags into her basket. (I thought to myself , wow, someone else realizes that Dollar Tree offered the best deal too! Ten 12oz. bags of frozen fruit for $1.00 meant this price was even better than the 64oz. bag of frozen fruit that Walmart sells for $9.97. )

dolar tree fruit

“We can use all of this fruit to make smoothies”, she said to her two small children.  They were holding the shopping baskets for her, as she continued to put bags of frozen fruit into their baskets.  (My heart smiled because this young mom reminded me of myself.  Although we were poor growing up, my mom always showed us how to make a dollar stretch and get the most out of what we had. So as a young mother and even now, I’ve learned to stretch that dollar really good.) That’s what brought me into Dollar Tree on that day.  I’ve been stretching dollars.  If truth be told, that’s what we all do at one point or another in our lives.  It’s called survival.  And many of us are just one or two pay checks away from this thing we call “Poverty”–  not having enough money to meet basic needs including food, clothing and shelter.

However, poverty is more, much more than just not having enough money for our basic needs. So I thought about the faces of poverty that people in leadership roles are painting for the community to see.  We are saturated with images of children being sent to school hungry, often with the smell of unbathed sweat, matted hair and torn clothing– and we’ve named this thing “Childhood Poverty” (like it’s a singular problem to solve by just providing a free lunch) or to appeal to those with purse strings– to pull at government dollars that often go to research and studies or money that is used to line the pockets of those who want to give an image of swooping down to save those in need.  We are even saturated with images of unwed mothers on welfare buying designer clothing and purchasing hair weave and fake nails like they’re the perpetrators or cause of the problem.

So those of us who look at this thing called poverty may even look at it with an attitude of disdain. The real face of poverty isn’t just found in these examples.  We have to start looking at it from a place of “I’ve been in your shoes and I really know what you’re going through” and “I came out– let me, not just tell you, but let me show you how to change some things”.  Poverty doesn’t have to be a destination but it is a place or condition that we have passed through on our way to…

So today, I share, amidst all who have an ear to hear, “I am a real face of poverty”– A sister shopping in the food section of Dollar Tree to get frozen fruit because there’s not and abundance of fresh fruit or vegetables to buy in my neighborhood.  I am a real face of poverty– A sister stretching every dollar and dime to make ends meet.  Many of us have been there at some point in our lives. I looked at the young mother and saw a mirror. That’s the part of me that connected with her shopping in Dollar Tree yesterday.

And as we continue our war against poverty, childhood poverty or whatever we choose to call it–that’s the kind of warriors that we need on the front lines of this battle- those who have lived this thing!… Those who can relate to what they’re fighting against; and those who will remember “….but for the grace of God, there go I.”

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Sisterhood: A Health Tip

© Copyright Annie Ruth

 

I am blessed.  I was taught to be a sister and being a sister draws sisters to me. To truly embrace sisterhood in its fullness, we must first become the sisters that we yearn to have in our lives.  One of my valued principles on sisterhood is that every sister needs a sister to love.  This is one of the major principles in my life, which helps to keep me balanced and healthy.

 

Because I’ve always had beautiful, nurturing, and positive sisters in my life, I’ve always viewed sisterhood as something that everyone has experienced.  Of course as I matured and encountered many women throughout my life, I realized that there are women who long for that woman to simply call “SISTER” and embrace that life-changing force called SISTERHOOD.

 

The following list is not inclusive but it is meant to help others embrace SISTERHOOD as a life-changing health regimen and to encourage the spreading of SISTERHOOD for those who are experiencing her warm embrace.

 

The ideas and suggestions in this blog are not intended for use in diagnosing mental or physical ailments.  All matters regarding your health should be addressed to your health service provider.

 

 

Tips on Sisterhood

 

1.      Just say “hello” and acknowledge a new sister with warm eye contact and a smile. The eyes are the mirror to the soul.  They reflect the person who is inside.  To begin walking that path to sisterhood, you’ve got to make warm eye contact.

 

 

2.      Move outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes we have been exposed to doing things certain ways, talking to certain people, and having certain types of acquaintances for so long we don’t know how to change.

 

Not only does doing the routine (the norm) limit your exposure to the world around you but it also doesn’t exercise your brain enough.  Make a conscious effort to enrich your life with a sister that you’ve never imagined having.  Find someone who doesn’t look, dress, eat, or act like you and extend a warm hello.  Be proactive; Keep extending that warm hello until it grows.

 

 

3.      Learn to see beyond the surface and acquire a variety of sister vessels.  If you can envision a pitcher of water that has been poured into several vessels.  One is a coffee mug, one is a beautiful champagne glass, and one is an old pop bottle. 

 

Which one of those vessels contains the water from the pitcher? You’re right! THEY ALL DO.  So just like those vessels contain the water so do the various sister vessels. Your task is to find the sister vessel that will enrich your life.  Just because you’re an old pop bottle doesn’t mean that an old pop bottle will be the one to enrich your life. (You get the picture).

 

 

 

4.      Just keep it real – be yourself (who you are) – no airs.  So often we walk through the paths of life wearing a mask of who we think people want us to be and not embracing the freedom of simply being ourselves.  I like the way that William Shakespeare said it, “To thine own self be true”.  You’ll be a healthier and happier sister because of it.

 

 

5.      Learn to be a good listener (read positively between the words) and (read the unspoken language — the body language). Not all body language is bad, although we’ve seen some negative displays of language communicated through others’ bodies. Sometimes those unspoken words and body language can be saying, “I care” or “I’m hurting”. Practice listening with your heart (your inner self) and not your physical ears and eyes.

 

 

6.      Learn to laugh with someone, not necessarily at them. Laughter is good medicine and food for the body, soul and spirit.  Science has shown that endorphins are naturally produced within our brains. They are more than neurotransmitters that serve as a built-in pain control system.

 

Some scientists claim that endorphins enhance our immune system and have anti-aging effects. Endorphins are produced when we share love, eat a great meal, take a walk, and for me, singing a song…even when we learn something new. One of the easiest ways to release endorphins is to laugh.  Laughing with a sister is like experiencing a physical and mental workout.


 7.      Have a good cry with a sister.  Although women are notorious for shedding tears, there are still many sisters out there who aren’t letting them flow.  There are times when we want to be alone but there are times when we need the nurturing arms of a sister.

 

 

Stress is one of the biggest killers. Interestingly enough, it is the way that our bodies react both physically and emotionally to any change in the status quo. Sisters can manage stress by helping other sisters. Sometimes that is the perfect remedy for whatever is troubling you. But one of my ways of managing stress and staying healthy is the freedom to have a good cry with a sister.  Tears of sadness, joy or grief can help cleanse the body of substances that accumulate under stress and it also releases those good ole endorphins from the brain.

 

 

8.      Spread the love ’cause you are love.  I heard this wonderful quote from my sister; I’m not sure who the author is. It says, “A candle that lights another candle doesn’t lose its light but the light shines brighter throughout the world.”

 

 

9.      Reinforce sisterhood ’cause sisterhood is good. Like a cure to a disease, like the fountain of youth, like a gold mine, and like love, sisterhood is good and much needed in our families, communities, and our world.

 

 

 

Did You Know?

 

·         Sisterhood is a major stimulus for our 6th sense, EMOTION – This sense is as necessary as the well known “5-Senses” (vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch) to maintain a healthy brain, which in turn maintains a healthy YOU.

 

·         Associating with a positive sister can lift your morale. Approximately 1/4 of women has a major bout with depression sometime during their life (They may not even know it as depression because it can manifest itself as insomnia, fatigue.)  Sisterhood has been proven and is actually one of the self-help tips that professional mental health service providers recommend for a balanced mental health.

 

·         Low self-esteem may be a factor that inhibits women from embracing sisterhood. Like self-esteem we all have a measure of love available to us. However, building self-esteem and building sisterhood is a process.  Many women don’t work at building sisterhoods because they don’t work at building themselves.  It is crucial for us to build.  Like our Creator placed the trees that we use to build houses with, we must use love and positive reinforcement of ourselves to build our self-esteem, which will in turn enable us to build lasting sisterhoods.

 

·         Friendship and Sisterhood are different. Friendship is a condition of being friends or a friendly feeling but sisterhood is a tie or special bond between women.  Sisterhood is a powerful force that transcends age, culture, religion, background, and our finite comprehension of what it is. To even define it in its fullness is difficult because, like love it is always growing.

 

·         Love is the one constant ingredient in sisterhood but how it’s shared will vary. Look at it like watering your plants and flowers.  They all need water and sunlight but how much water and sunlight that you provide depends on what type of plant it is.

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