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Food-Inspired Art

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Friday, April 28, 2017

National Poetry Month: Storytelling

I went to a poetry slam yesterday and mutilated a few high schoolers--as did my fellow spoken word compatriot who was preparing for an event he had coming up on Sunday--and I felt horribly for it.  I felt like a pillaging Viking snatching babies from their cradles.  Or an Egyptian soldier killing one and two year old babies for Pharoah.  It wasn't even a competition really; more like a landslide victory.

Let me continue by saying that 1) I had absolutely NO idea it was a poetry slam.  I was told it was open mic and that was the only reason I was there.  2) I had no idea the program was put on by a high school English class.  It was held at a place where adult open mics occur all the time.  And 3) I do NOT, under any circumstances, make a habit of annihilating innocence.  Because I think that's exactly what I did...

I'm not sure what stipulation this particular group had on slam participation, but all the high schoolers who entered were seniors.  We found that out at the end of the slam.  And their instructors didn't feel one bit guilty about allowing them to parlay with adult poets who had been doing this for years.  They felt it was "good experience for them".  Even a fellow poet of mine said the same when I told her what happened.  She said, "They need to step their game up."  And that got me thinking: she's right.  Because what I saw that night, both in the open mic section and the slam, made me feel these kids hadn't been taught a thing.  So being the good Samaritan that I am...

1. Poetry gives the author a voice.  Pace matters.
My goodness, these kids who presented, out of nervousness or just academic zeal, read at lightning speed to the point you couldn't hardly understand a word they said!  No pauses.  No breaks.  No connection with their audience.  Were it not for the title and author citation at the beginning, I would have had no idea what I was hearing.

Slow down.  Poetry is not a novel, or even a short story.  So read slowly.  Pace the words into sentences that make sense; the author has provided punctuation, stanzas, and lines to show you the places you are meant to take a breath.  Use them.  It forces the work to be read in the rhythm the author designed it, regardless of the way the words are organized on the page.

2. Poetry should be about something.  But please, don't try to be deep.
The pretension in the room nearly stifled me.  We could tell the self-important, "we sit on the grassy knoll and contemplate the state of the world", "the arts are my life" types the moment we entered the room.  And they reinforced that idea when they got up to the podium to present.  Consider the reason writing, artistry, music, theater, and dance are labeled artforms--because there's an art to forming them.

These artists--in any genre--have something to say: about life, the world around them, nature, society, politics, love, themselves.  Art is about reflecting what may seem ordinary or common into a medium that is structured in a way that speaks to others.  It's about placing those thoughts and experiences on a palette that is beautifully edible, digestable, and memorable.  Constructing poetry, or any artform for that matter, in a way that is deliberately complicated--with elevated vocabulary and snarky ideas--doesn't make me think.  It makes me tune out.  Thereby defeating the central purpose of art: to be heard.

3. Poetry requires authenticity.  Only you could have said what you said that way.
A lot of comparison went on, especially once the slam part started and scores were assigned.  At the end, I heard a lot of "I can't write like you", "Your stuff was better than mine", "I wish I could do that".  You would be tempted to believe these are compliments to the other poet, but really it's self-deprecating, and you don't want to start teetering on that ledge.

Taking into account the first two points: if poetry is about giving the author a voice to say what they need to say about life and experience, who better to say it than that poet?  It's true that you might not be the first person to write about love; these concepts occur to all of us because it's experience we've all had.  But that heartbreak--or soul-wrenching love story--happened to you.  Nobody else can tell that story except you.  Even the lover you shared it with didn't experience it the exact same way you did.  Your story matters.  Tell it the way you would tell it, because that's the part that makes the telling worth listening to.

There will always be someone who can do what you do better.  Let that talent and skill elevate you, not discourage you.

4. Poetry is about connection.  But you are the only audience that matters.
I love to write.  I love to sing.  These are avenues by which I say the things that are meaningful and powerful to me.  And somehow, I've said them well enough that I've actually managed to get people to listen.  But I don't write to sell books, and I don't sing to get a record deal.  I write and sing because it allows for cathartic release, to say what I may not have otherwise.  I say it in a way that makes me feel connected to myself again, so that I get to learn more about me.  And you know what?  Now others know me better too, and they say, "I too have felt the sting of loss.  I too have felt the pain of heartbreak.  I too have been to the mountain."  And so I have connected with them as well.

Artistry is about building a bridge between people.  Storytelling across varying mediums that allow someone a peek into another's world so they can say "I'm not alone."  Artistry is meant to pierce you at your core, to enlighten you, to bring you closer to an understanding of what it means to be human.  Because that is all an artist is striving to depict: their view of humanity.  Sometimes it is penetratingly dark.  At times, full of blinding light.  Either way, you should come away feeling connected to another's view of the world, whether or not you were deeply affected by it.


This experience with young ones reminded me that I was once them.  I go back to my high school poetry and I can see how I was both pretentious...and then beautifully artful in my honesty.  I keep it all.  I've thrown nothing away, even the horrible stuff.  Because it still connects.  It still speaks.  Make sure what you write, sing, play, compose, act, draw/paint/animate does too.  Keep telling stories.  Somebody's listening.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Labor Day Giveaway

September 4th, 2016 is my mother's 60th birthday! And in honor of my biggest fan, I am sponsoring a Labor Day Giveaway.  If you can answer The Lova Chronicles question enclosed in the form below, you can win an ebook copy of all 3 of the current Lova Chronicles books in the series!

Followers of The Lova Chronicles series have been recognizing the patterns of the books.  There are four elemental gods in the series, One of which heads them all.  So far, each book has focused on one particular element in every story, thus featuring one particular god.

So...do you think you know where The Lake of Lethe is headed?  If you can be one of the first 5 participants to correctly tell me which god will be featured in the 4th installment of The Lova Chronicles, The Lake of Lethe, I'll give you a FREE ebook copy of every released Lova Chronicles novel to date!  That's Book 1:The Earthen Shroud, Book 2:The Isle of Kishi Mora, and the latest release Book 3:The Iron Gate!

Remember, only the first 5 participants to answer the question correctly will win.  Think you know?  Fill out the form below and good luck!

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Superwoman vs Wonder Woman: the Antithesis of True Love

I've seen a lot of single mothers, particularly around Father's Day, promoting the Superwoman concept.  As single mothers, they are forced to do it alone, to be independent and conquer many challenges and milestones all by themselves.  Far too often, especially in African-American communities, fathers don't stick around--they sire children and leave these newly formed families to fend for themselves.  A single mom is challenged to do and be both mother and father, which easily lends to the idea of a Superwoman or "Supermom".  But for those same women to be looking for a man to spend the rest of their lives with...well, allow me to burst your bubble by saying your methodology is a bit askew.

The first challenge is--Superwoman, according to DC Comics, is evil; she's the villainous counterpart to Wonder Woman.  She has had love interests--all villains--but with no particular desire for longevity in a relationship as she typically uses sex and her body as a weapon to get what she wants.  She is primarily concerned with overthrowing the Justice League and doing exactly what she wants to do when she wants to do it.  Although she appears to hate men and the tyranny she believes they stand for, she sees some value in them when they have something she wants--mostly sex and money.

Ultimately, Superwoman has no real need for a man, nor does she want one.  She's career-minded, has no desire for children (although some story arcs depict a secret love child with Lex Luthor who grows to hate her mother for not attaining total dominance of the human race), and harbors a deeply seeded lust for vengeance.  Superwoman is single, ladies.  By choice, of course, and with ugly consequences.  If this is what you're after, then you're a Superwoman indeed.  But I'm willing to bet it's not.

I'm hearing you now saying, "Fine.  Then I'm Wonder Mom."  Okay, let's look at Superwoman's counterpart.

Wonder Woman is single, too.  She's had love interests in previous story arcs with both Superman and Batman.  Both relationships were tumultuous as she tried to balance being a savior of the free world with a man who could--and was--doing the same.  The two story arcs where she successfully marries Superman end tragically with one of the two of them dying in some sacrificial way.  Two other relationships in the Wonder Woman saga include a male damsel-in-distress, (Steve Trevor, whom Wonder Woman frequently seemed far too dominant for with her being super and him being...well, not) and Aquaman.  Steve eventually marries a human woman, Etta Candy, and Aquaman later admits that he only agreed to marry Wonder Woman as a political alliance and never really loved her.  He leaves her for a merqueen, Mera, whom Wonder Woman later kills out of jealous vengeance.  Wonder Woman is powerful, accomplished, and capable.  But despite these things, her challenge in relationship always seemed to be the ability to yield the lead to her (most times super) lover, all of whom eventually chose other, non-super women to settle down with and marry.

So, let's take a look at the women who eventually got these super men to put a ring on it.  Superman ended up with Lois Lane and Batman with Vicki Vale (see pic right). While both of these human women are obviously without super powers, they are not powerless nor without careers.  Both of them are successful reporters for prominent newspapers in their towns and are insiders to a lot of political contacts.  They are equally crusaders for truth, like their super-husbands, although on a less fantastical scale.  They are strong and independent thinkers, but do find themselves in need of rescue at times--and are appreciative of it.  Aquaman marries Mera, a queen no less; the title itself lends to all the other attributes of the previous two women.  While she is less outspoken than Vicki and Lois, she rules with a firm hand and quiet fire that earns respect without demanding it, especially from Aquaman, who she makes earn her hand in marriage through a long, sexless courtship.  Their story arc reveals that Mera refuses to even speak to or take messages from Aquaman while he was in relationship (even a loveless one) with Wonder Woman.  Talk about a woman with standards.

Now, let me establish early, ladies, I was a single mother.  Until I met my husband, I raised my son for fourteen years on my own with an amazing support system.  I am not, in any way, implying that your struggle is not real.  What I see, however, seems to be the Superwoman and Wonder Woman complexes: either you are so embittered by love that you attract men only interested in sexual dalliances or you are so dominant that you struggle with yielding the lead.  I was both these women, which is why I can call it like I see it.

Women were never intended to do it all.  We were forced into that role by societal shortcomings that made single parenting necessary and--let's be honest--popular.  It's almost "not cool" to co-parent, especially if mom and dad are not in a healthy relationship with one another.  Single moms these days tend to harp on the concept of being the primary parents and making all the rules; after all, every decision is yours because you are the one responsible for that child 365 days a year, especially if you're trying to "co-parent" with a weekend/part-time dad who only shows up when it's convenient for him.  Single motherhood has taught women not to compromise, which is counter-intuitive to the idea of being in a loving, caring marriage.  Because marriage takes both compromise and sacrifice.  As has been famously said by many so often that the originator is now unknown: "Do you want to be married, or do you want to be right?"

Trust me, ladies, I get it.  I was you, for a very long time.  And I suffered in other relationships because of it.  Like Wonder Woman, I was so super, I didn't know how to let a good man lead.  Single motherhood had taught me, like it has so many other single mothers, to do it all for myself because no one else was willing or would.  When a good man came along and was both willing and able, I stole the reigns saying, "Nah, I got this."  Then foolishly couldn't understand why he left when I was just as good, if not better, than those Loises and Vickis who ended up with rings.  This made me bitter and angry, and I became Superwoman, deciding I didn't need a man, which led to abusive relationship after abusive relationship with men who wanted nothing from me but sex and my undivided attention while they scampered off, sometimes right under my nose, with other Superwomen just like me.

It's a vicious pattern that only you can stop.  Because it's what's in you that attracts the villainous Ultramans and Lex Luthors or causes the Supermans and Batmans to abandon ship.  Single motherhood does not demand an independent journey.  Children are best raised by villages, and the only reason a man would want to remain a part of that village is if you release your need for control and allow him to step into his place.  With all the Steve Harveys, Rev Runs, and Tyreses out there telling women what men are looking for, you should see by now that no man is satisfied with just being wanted.  Only a lazy, gluttonous person is satisfied at a job where they are paid to do absolutely nothing.  People seeking purpose want jobs where their responsibilities on that job matter to the greater good of the company.  People want to be valued, and that only comes from a need.

Men have that same need in relationships.  A Superwoman is so bitter she has no real desire for a man, so he takes what she's willing to give (her body) and leaves the rest until he finds longevity elsewhere.  A Wonder Woman constantly demonstrating her own strengths and assets to her man ultimately emphasizes she sees no value in what he has to offer; he leaves because she is so wonderful, she has no need for him.  He can't see where he fits in to what she has already established on her own.

I'm not saying you must lie down to some faux semblance of passivity and weakness.  And I'm certainly not saying the lioness A-type personalities of our world should "bow down" to a lion's will just to be in a successful relationship.  If you believe that, you're missing the point.  Men seeking a wife want a partner, someone to share their lives with.  If you can do that without him, what need do you have for each other?  What balance makes you successful?  Lucious and Cookie Lyon have made it very clear that two kings at the helm lead to the destruction of an empire.

Yes, there are exceptions to every rule.  I'm sure some Wonder or Superwoman somewhere is going to turn this into a sexist post and attempt to validate a woman's desire to be everything to everyone at all times.  But I challenge you to see yourself in these archetypes.  If you're reading this post defensively, it implies those Superwoman walls are still up, that Wonder Woman crown is still on, and you haven't allowed yourself to see the truth in this.  Be honest with yourself: how well has that been working out for you romantically?

A crown on one's head does not a queen make.  A woman who fashions her own crown and places it upon her own head and demands respect is by definition a dictator.  It is okay to be a powerful, self-sufficient woman.  But if you're hoping to one day be a Mrs., you'll need to leave the all-encompassing "super" part where it belongs: on the pages of a comic book.  Because let's face it: when you're as super as those two, who needs a partner?

Friday, February 28, 2014

African-American History Month: Bill Cosby

In last week's post on pound cake, I was reminded of Bill Cosby's infamous Pound Cake Speech that he delivered in 2004 at the NAACP award ceremony in Washington DC.  As I mentioned in the previous post, the comedian suffered quite a bit of backlash about his criticism of the African-American community and the race's lack of social responsibility for our position in American society.  This being the last black history month post of 2014, and having never had a previous opportunity to register my opinion, I thought I'd take the time to address this highly controversial topic.

Cosby's speech has gotten the backlash that it has for one very simple reason: quite frankly, the truth hurts.  No one in the African-American community is willing to admit that regardless of how difficult it was to hear, Cosby made valid and pertinent points.  Those who do grant the speech any validity do so grudgingly and do not hesitate to point out that the "original American dad" fails to give any credence to the social injustices the last two centuries have imposed upon our culture.

Let me lead by saying that slavery, disenfranchisement and segregation were very real social hindrances in the time of our black American ancestors.  Let me continue by saying that racism and racial profiling, political inequality and poverty are very real social hindrances in the 20th and 21st centuries.  The difference between our ancestors and our current generations are this: the preceding generation fought for those equalities using the very system it railed against (our judiciary and political systems) to eradicate those injustices.  In our current generation, we have no evident appreciation for the struggle that came before, or any apparent desire to instill those values in our children.  We seem much more willing to complain than we are to set hands to the plow and fight for what we believe we deserve.

In 2000, Dave Chappelle in his stand-up comedy "Killin' Them Softly" riffed on one such value: politics.  He commented that whites are generally very guarded about their political affiliations, whereas blacks tend to openly discuss politics and political inequalities.  However, Chappelle points out a very prominent point: blacks don't vote.  We fought, bled and died risking our lives in the early 1900s to be allowed that very right.  Blacks were lynched, burned and threatened if they attempted to vote.  While the right to vote in those times were supposedly legal, polling laws were passed with criteria legislators knew black Americans couldn't meet.  Now, according to NBC News and due to the presidency of Barack Obama, polling rates for black Americans rose in the 2008 and 2012 elections.  Prior to, only about 32% of eligible black Americans voted in any presidential election.

Cosby laments in his speech that parents these days care nothing for the values that matter.  "...these people are not parenting.  They're buying things for the kid.  $500 sneakers and for what?  They won't buy or spend $250 on Hooked on Phonics."  My generation calls this "hood rich".  We go out and spend our money on cars and rims and systems--while living in an income-based apartment complex.  We spend our tax money on shoes and clothes and the latest iPhone, and by the end of February our children look "fresh" on the bus but boarded it with an empty stomach.  It is as Cosby mentions: the hood is just enough.  What was once a stepping stone to the Jeffersons "moving on up" has now become the standard with no apparent desire to escape.  The 50% drop-out rate among African-Americans that Cosby mentions is, as he said, due in fact to the lack of value placed on the importance of American education.  In short, we teach our young children that you are born with one strike against you--you're black--and therefore, there is no point in wishing to be anything more.

Black student standards are lower in school systems
Back when I was still dating, I remember meeting a young black man on a dating site.  He was 33 years old with a bachelor's degree in science, a stable job he had worked for about five years,  no children and not so much as a traffic violation.  I remember gushing with my girlfriends over this guy and the rarity that he was.  A black male with no baby mama drama?  A black male with no criminal record?  A black male with a degree and a good job with aspirations of owning things: a business, a home, an investment portfolio?  It was absolutely unheard of!  But...why is this type of man a rarity?  It's because as parents we've ridiculed these aspirations.  Perhaps in our own bitterness at our misshapen lives and our own past mistakes, we teach our children underachievement.  We say a C or D in a subject is okay because "at least you passed".  We say "as long as you gave it your best, you did okay", but okay in this modern day society is not enough.  It is not okay ball players that make it to the NBA.  It is not okay inventors that revolutionize American technology, and it is not okay students that become notorious surgeons, writers, and politicians.  Why do we celebrate mediocrity?  Why are we afraid to push our children?  Why do we not teach them that the foundation of success is built on the bricks of failure?  Why have we stunted our children's ability to dream...?

It is not wrong to appreciate and value one's culture.  By all means, keep your street vernacular and "cultural dress"--as long as you know that when you step from outside your neighborhood and into school and corporate America, we speak English in this country.  How can we ridicule and criticize Hispanic and Asian immigrants who have not learned to speak proper English when black Americans who were born here can't even do so?  At some point, we must aspire to be more.  We must aspire, like our ancestors, to take the judicial and political system and turn it on its ear.  We have to realize that a "street pharmacist" is not a real job nor is it a legal way to make money.  We have to stop being afraid to get more than a part-time job for fear that our food stamps will get cut off.  We have to stop blaming others for our lot in life--especially when we haven't even tried.

I am now married to a man who was raised in an inner city by a drug-addicted and abusive mother, kicked out at 14 years old, dropped out of school and promptly became a millionaire as a career criminal.  Hustling was all he knew.  Now, he will soon be an ordained pastor who seeks to reinvest in his former community by establishing a non-profit that teaches young impressionable men what Cosby and Steve Harvey had been saying from the beginning: it starts at home.  It starts with telling our children there is more than this, and you can have it--with hard work and perseverance.  You may not be afforded the same opportunities as your white counterparts, but you'll appreciate it more because you fought for it.  And you'll be the better for it because it wasn't handed to you on a silver platter.  You and the grace of the Almighty God made it happen.

You cannot blame society for your lot in life if you are unwilling to take advantage of the rights and freedoms already afforded you by the sweat, blood and struggle of the preceding generation.  Don't get me wrong: hundreds of thousands marched on Washington so you could have a choice.  You are free not to care about education or want one; you are free to sell, purchase and abuse narcotics if you so choose.  You are free to remain at a dead-end job.  But, you made that choice--that is not the work of an all-powerful white culture society oppressing your ability to be successful.  There are no bars around our inner cities, ladies and gentlemen; nor is there an angel with a flaming sword at the gate of modern suburbia.  You are free to leave whenever you wish.

Still there are some who will say, "Raynetta, you know it's not that easy."  You're right; it isn't.  Racism and racial inequalities are very real injustices in our society.  But we must be careful not to make these injustices very real excuses to remain impoverished by mediocrity.  Strive, my people.  You can only be what you believe you are...


Friday, February 21, 2014

African-American History Month: Pound Cake

I know: it sounds incredibly ridiculous.  "You're writing a black history month post on...food?"  Hear me out.  I love food!  I'm a self-professed foodie.  As a matter of fact, when I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, I went on a rampage trying to find healthy foods I was permitted to eat that didn't taste like dry rice cakes and undressed tuna.  But perhaps more than actual food, I love cake (and icecream).  And this week, I found myself wondering why, in African-American culture, we celebrate so heavily--and with so many different varieties--of cake.

Most people know by now about the tradition of what is called "soul food" in the African-American culture.  Food is so special to black Americans because, during the times of slavery, food was pretty much all blacks had that was theirs.  It gave them the opportunity to be creative and to demonstrate their love to their families and friends.  Food was a community affair; everyone, both immediate and extended family as well as neighbors, would gather around one table and share a meal, often times for no real occasion at all.  Sunday dinner is a family tradition in most African-American households, and, if you've ever been invited to one of these dinners, you'll notice the crowd is not limited to blood relations.  Even learning to cook is a tradition most black women pass on to their girls, and both cooking and baking are subjects of tremendous pride.  Recipes are passed down through numerous generations, and signature dishes and desserts abound.

Of all the cakes and dishes my mother (and grandmothers) have made over the years, pound cake is the one that stands out most for me.  We had at least one pound cake--lemon, vanilla, sour cream, rum raisin--at every holiday or gathering.  There was no such thing as having dinner without a dessert planned, and if some form of pound cake wasn't on the dessert table, somebody complained.  Of all the desserts friends and coworkers request of my mother, her pound cake is #1.  Now, (since I've had several surgeries and my palette is incredibly sensitive), pound cake has become one of my favorites, too.  It's not too sweet, can be very light (or fulfillingly dense), and doesn't even require icing to be tasty--although my mother does a fantastic lemon drizzle sometimes that can make you wanna slap...well, your mama.

Pound cake got its name from its massive ingredients: one pound each of sugar, butter, eggs and flour.  This batter of course could feed multiple families--and did.  As I mentioned previously, meals were a family affair, and there were usually quite a few people gathered to eat together during slavery days.  This recipe became so popular because it was easy to remember; most black Americans could not read or write due to slave codes in America that prevented the education of slaves.  As time went on and the necessity for such a large cake decreased, the recipe was altered to allow for a lighter, smaller cake.  But of course, the name stuck.

When Abby Fisher published the first African-American cookbook in 1881, it was no surprise there were two recipes for pound cake: one more traditional version that included the whole egg, and a second called "Silver Pound Cake" which only required egg whites.  In her time, Abby was known primarily for pickling, but her catering business churned out thousands of pound cakes in multiple variations.  In time, the invention of the mechanical egg beater by Willis Johnson in 1884 (which led to today's electric mixer) aided bakers of every ethnicity to be more productive in their kitchens.

The pound cake's cultural prevalence is evident in its multiple references in aesthetic mediums.  Poundcake became an urban sexual vernacular after Van Halen used it in a song, and Drake released his song "Pound Cake" in 2013, again as a sexual metaphor.  Probably the most notorious use is Bill Cosby's Pound Cake Speech made by the comedian at an NAACP award ceremony in 2004.  The speech was so titled because of its analogy of common criminals versus political incarceration during the civil rights movement.  Cosby has suffered much social backlash behind this speech for its criticism of the African-American community's failure to take responsibility for their social and educational conditions.

These days, everyone has a recipe for pound cake.  It is no longer thought of as an African-American dessert or tradition, as is soul food in general despite its prominent historical relevance in southern culture.  Each recipe has its different variation in measurements and flavor, but one thing is for certain: it remains as tasty as ever.  So no matter the flavor or the way you dress it, I suggest you go out and grab yourself a slice.  I can guarantee you won't regret it!

Do you have a fantastic recipe for pound cake?  Share it with us!

Friday, February 14, 2014

African-American History Month: The Lovings

Happy Valentine's Day!

Today's Black History Month post absolutely had to include something about love because I just couldn't ignore this notorious holiday while trying to recognize my cultural history.  However, the quest for civil rights hardly ever included LOVE as a precedent.  So imagine my excitement when I remembered this historic civil rights Supreme Court case: Loving v. Virginia.

Mildred (nee Jeter), an African- and Native American, and Richard, a Caucasian, began seeing each other in secretly as teenagers.  After 5-7 years of dating, Mildred became pregnant at the age of 18.  Both, already in love and eager to tie the knot, decided to get married.  They drove 90 miles north to Washington DC and married in a civil ceremony, returning to their hometown of Central Point, Virginia thereafter.

A couple of weeks later, following an anonymous tip that the Loving couple was in violation of the law, the sheriff's department burst into the Loving home and demanded to know why they were sleeping together.  When Mildred explained she was Richard's wife and pointed to the marriage certificate hanging on the wall, the sheriff promptly replied, "That's no good here."  Richard went to jail, as did the still pregnant Mildred, and eventually the two pleaded guilty to the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which held that interracial dating, marriage and cohabitation was illegal in Virginia.  Their marriage license and Mildred's pregnancy were both used as evidence in their case.  Their respective one-year sentences were suspended: with the provision that the Loving leave Virginia permanently and not return as a couple for 25 years.  The Lovings complied, moving to Washington DC, and only visited family and friends at home separately.

This was their life for about five years, but by 1963, the Lovings were fed up.  They contacted the infamous Robert F. Kennedy who referred them to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  The ACLU filed several motions on behalf of the Lovings, famously ending with an argument at the federal Supreme Court on which stated that the couple's banishment and ostracism from Virginia was unconstitutional under the precedents of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The case was argued with the Supreme Court on April 10th and on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court concluded that anti-miscegenation laws were racist and had been enacted to with the sole purpose of enforcing white supremacy.

The Loving v. Virginia ruling caused a dramatic increase in interracial marriages across America, but particularly in the South.  Today, among opposite-sex couples, 1 in 10 marriages (5.4 million) are
interracial, based on the 2010 census.  Even 21% of same sex marriages are interracial or interethnic.  The Loving ruling quite literally changed the face of love and marriage in the United States.  While enslaved, African-Americans produced mixed (or what was considered "mulatto") children by force when raped or required to lie with their overseers and estate masters.  But the Loving case made the willful decision to marry between races legal, causing an ethnic integration never before seen in America.  Now bi- and/or multiracial has become an option on American forms everywhere to accommodate Americans born of unions between interracial couples.  This case was also cited in the overturning of same sex marriages in Utah in December 2013 in its decision of Kitchen v Herbert, establishing that love and the opportunity of marriage should be denied to no one.

The Lovings' story was made into two movies: Mr. & Mrs. Loving (1996) starring Lela Rochon and Timothy Hutton, and The Loving Story produced by HBO and aired on Valentine's Day 2012.  The Lovings proved that love truly has no boundaries.  What an incredible thing to remember on a day like today.

References:
Mildred Loving Biography
Loving v. Virginia
USA Today 4.26.12

Friday, February 7, 2014

African-American History Month: Allen Allensworth

Welcome to yet another African-American History Month post!  I have so much fun doing these, and I finally have the time to do another for you.  I pride myself on bringing you little known black history facts every February, but this one surprised even me!

Today's black history post is on Allen Allensworth.  My California readers have probably heard of the Allensworth State Historic Park and the accompanying museum: Allensworth: A Place. A People. A History.  Did you know Allensworth set out to create a city designed specifically for African-Americans where they could live free of political and social persecution?  Allensworth, CA still stands today, and though it did not accomplish what it was meant to be, Allen Allensworth was a stellar black American indeed.

Allensworth was born a slave in 1842 Kentucky.  The youngest of 13 children, Allen was assigned as a companion to the youngest male child of the plantation master, and, alongside his new companion, was taught to read and write.  Educating a slave was a criminal act in that time, and to hide Allen's talents, his mistress sent him off to live with a Quaker who continued his education.  Eventually, his knowledge was discovered, and Allen was immediately sent to work as a field hand.

Allen despised his slave status and considered slavery to be second class citizenry.  He knew he wanted out and constantly sought ways to do so.  When he was sold to Fred Scruggs, a horse owner and racer, Allen found that he was a talented jockey.  Scruggs noticed this, too, and moved Allen from exercise boy to jockey.  In 1862, Allensworth traveled to Louisville with his master to a horse race being held there.  It was there he met and conversed with Union soldiers of the 44th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  Upon confessing to them his desire to be a free man, the soldiers helped him conspire an escape.  They loaned Allen an infantry coat and covered his face in mud, smuggling him out of Louisville and into the Union military.  Allen served as a nursing aide for a time during the Civil War, then joined the US Navy.

It was during this post that he became chaplain for the cavalry of African-Americans serving at the time.  IT was President Grover Cleveland who finally appointed him to this position.  He maintained as chaplain for 20 years.  In addition, he used his position to emphasize the importance of education of enlisted personnel, penning two works that eventually became governing army standard manuals.  Shortly before his retirement, Allensworth was promoted to lieutenant colonel, making him the first black officer to ever receive the rank.  He retired to Los Angeles after a long career.

Despite such notorious attributes early in his life, Allensworth is most historically well-known for his founding of Allensworth in California.  A firm believer in the similar teachings of Booker T. Washington, Allensworth was quite vocal about the African-American's responsibility to himself first.  He emphasized economic frugality ("Don't put a five dollar hat on a five cent head") and admonished black Americans to strive to own property and work for themselves.  The development of the Allensworth community set out to do precisely that, anchoring to be the first race community that was completely funded and built by African-Americans themselves.

Once Allensworth and his team found land to purchase (a difficult task in itself as Jim Crow was still the law of the land), expansion happened quickly.  Within a year, 35 families had moved into the town and immediately the Allensworth colony began to take on a sense of community.  The settlement had two general stores, a post office, a school and eventually even a library.  A train station stopped through, the land was fertile and fresh water was supplied through a local water works company.  Life was good.

The town's luck began to turn when it lost its leader.  Allensworth, while visiting Monrovia for a lecture, was struck by two white boys driving recklessly on a speeding motorcycle.  The two were never apprehended and whether or not the assault was accidental or intentional was never determined.  Nevertheless, the accident resulted in Allensworth's death, leaving a distinct lack of leadership in his new colony.  Slowly but surely, things in the town started downhill, and before long, its residents began migrating from the colony to find work.

Allen Allensworth, despite what could be considered a failed effort, exemplified the integrity he endeavored to teach.  Realizing that nothing changes without someone willing to change, he pushed forward to every goal he ever set in his efforts to establish laws and communities that benefited black Americans.  He led by example for those who lives he touched, and his efforts still stand as rules to live by for blacks living in this century.



References:
America Comes Alive
History Net

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Soapbox Spotlight: Stacy Eaton

Welcome back to another Soapbox  Spotlight!  I can't tell you how much I've missed doing these.  Today, I want to introduce you to Stacy Eaton, an incredible paranormal writer that I've "known" for nearly two years now.  We kept trying to get something together, either on my blog or hers, and it's been hit or miss for quite awhile.  Thankfully, I am now able to present this amazing author to you in outstanding form!

Stacy is a bestselling author who, having written dozens of books, is known most notoriously for her My Blood Runs Blue series.  She has now released two new books this past November (Second Shield and Liveon-No Evil) while working on her latest series, Garda.  Stacy attributes her expertise in crime to a full-time position as an active duty police officer (whoa!), which she discusses further later in this post.

We here at the Soapbox are always looking for newer and more interactive ways to bring you what you love about this blog.  So, for the first time ever, we've decided to give you a video interview.  Let us know how you enjoyed the new format!

It's your stage, Stacy!


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

No New Year's Resolution

This is my first blog post of 2014, and in typical Raynetta fashion, I refuse to conform!  Everyone starts the year off with resolutions to which they are dedicated for merely a few weeks or months.  And by the spring, no one remembers what they set out to do, much less whether or not they actually achieved said goals.  This feels counterproductive to me.  It is also pretty cliche to tell myself I will set goals I can actually achieve because this feels limiting and doesn't push my compulsive perfectionism to its brink (lol).  So instead, I've determined that this year, I will not make resolutions, but simply dedicate myself to being more functional in one specific area: my schedule.

I wrote a previous blog about scheduling that I found to be fantastically beneficial.  I had scheduled every required activity in my life, both personal and professional, to accommodate everything and everyone.  And for the most part, it worked relatively well...until I stopped doing it.  You see, I forgot to schedule time to schedule my time!  And before I knew it, I was winging my days again, wondering when I would ever find the time to do everything I needed to do.  And last year, my priorities swelled.  I added so many life changes--a new daytime career filled with busy little toddlers, renewed acquaintances, ministry obligations, a fiance and planning a wedding, and not to mention a moody adolescent middle-schooler.  I looked at my life and wondered why I felt I had accomplished nothing all day.  And then, during a productivity seminar, I was reminded how crucial (and advantageous) scheduling had become to my life.

You can always check out that other scheduling blog, but here's a few other things I learned this year about managing my time:

1.  Maintain your schedule.  At the end of my week, somewhere between Friday and Saturday, I added time to my schedule to plan the next week's time.  I schedule everything from phone calls to friends and family to writing and brainstorming time on my current work-in-progress.

2.  Be flexible.  I'm adjusting to the idea that things come up--like random "crisis" texts from your girlfriends that have to be addressed now, and the sudden realization that you don't have all the ingredients for tonight's dinner and now you have to go to the store which totally extends the time allotted for cooking and eating.  Roll with the punches.  It always works out.

3.  Prioritize.  I've color coded the items on my schedule.  Pink is for mandatory appointments or responsibilities that can't be changed or rescheduled: like my daytime work hours and my continuing education classes.  Blue is for appointments and responsibilities that can be rescheduled but must get done at some point that day or week, like my writing and studying time.  Yellow is for appointments that can be rescheduled or removed altogether if necessary, like a club meeting or friendly phone call.  Green is my free time, and I try to give myself at least an hour of it every day.

4.  Don't forget the "menial" tasks.  Often we forget to account for little things like commutes, meal times, adequate sleep and personal hygiene in our schedules.  If you're running around the whole day, it's easy to forget to eat! Or you find yourself off schedule trying to fit a shower in when you planned to study.

5.  You have more time than you think.  You will quickly realize when you sit down to do this that there is more unaccounted time in your schedule than you may believe.  Once you're faced with filling your entire day span from the time you wake up until your anticipated bedtime, you'll find that it really is hard to be uber productive every moment of your 15-18 hour day.  The space you don't fill?  Consider it free time and bask in the opportunity to do whatever you like.

Here's to being more productive and efficient in 2014!  Cheers to you, and rest assured: this is totally not a resolution :-)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Tis the Season

Christmas is my favorite time of year!  I anxiously await the first of December each year, anticipating the excitement that comes with the holiday season.  My son and I enforce more traditions at this time than we do on any other holiday--combined.  And we spend more time together as a family in these few weeks than we do at any other time.

I, unlike few other parents (lol), am willing to admit that I spoil my son mercilessly.  He is my one and only, and I don't have to share my income with anyone else if I so choose.  Therefore, he gets the bulk of my financial attention, especially at Christmas--even when he has been so inhumanely disagreeable that I balk at the idea of him deserving anything at all.  Which brings me to the point of this post...

Christmas, for me at least, has never been about deserving.  A difficult word deserving; it means to be found worthy, to have earned some semblance of reward.  And quite frankly, I just don't believe any one of us--no matter how sweet, thoughtful or kind--can ever be deserving of someone's love, affection or attention.  You see, love simply can't be earned; it is only given--freely, completely and totally.  Christmas and its subsequent gift-giving is not about whether a child was "bad or good", as the famous holiday songs jingle.  (Hence the reason I never taught my son to believe in Santa Claus, but that's for another day.)  Christmas is about showing love to others through our giving, and thus, you cannot earn it.  It is my expression of love to you; it only requires that you gratefully receive.

My family's practices, or traditions if you will, reinforce that concept, even down to the gifts we give.  What I'm looking for on Christmas morning is that ginormous grin that spans my family's face that lets me know I got it right.  And whether I ever receive anything Christmas morning or not, seeing my family huddled under the tree, satisfied and happy, is what warms my heart.  It consequently makes me tremendously happy, even if that happiness is momentary.  It's a small glimmer of hope in an unbelieving world, and no matter what you believe, hope is a concept we all desperately need.

Yes, Christmas has been commercialized and stripped of its true meaning.  We all know this: we've seen the Grinch steal the Whos' packages and watched speechless as Linus stands in the spotlight on a stage with his little blanket.  We've repeated this process every year, and maybe only on a small level does it ever really sink in.  We get caught up in the Black Friday sales, which don't even start on Friday anymore, and we're scrambling for that new hot toy or electronic something that our child(ren) just must have or Christmas is a total bust.  But really, at the root of it, all that scramble and hustle and bustle is about one thing: love.  Because if you didn't love the person who asked for it, as redundant and selfish and stupid as the gift feels or sounds, you wouldn't be out there every Thanksgiving hunting and scraping and fighting to satisfy those meaningless requests.

There's something about the spirit of Christmas that seems to set everything in my world right.  Don't get me wrong: I'm still very aware of those who go without every year, those who are cold and hungry, those children spending the holidays in foster care with state-assigned "parents" who care nothing for them.  I see the hurt in the world, more than ever during this season.  The great thing though is that the Christmas spirit, if you allow it to, it fills you up to be the change, the hope, that someone is dying for.  Maybe those someones live in your house.  Or maybe those someones are the little children you sponsor at Good Cause or Salvation Army.  It doesn't matter to whom you give that love, so long as you give it.

It's more than a little cliche to close this post with a call to action, to inspire you to reflect and ponder on these "deep and moving" things.  I will ask you to do nothing of the sort.  All I ask is that you embrace whatever traditions you observe--even if there are none--and share these moments daily with those you love.  We all know too well that so many are gone too soon (RIP Paul Walker), and every second is much too precious to waste.

So Merry Christmas, my dedicated readers, and go spread the love!