Can’t I Be Angry

There is a lot of love in our world. I feel it everyday with my family, friends, in the music I listen to, the art I see, the things I enjoy, my neighbors; I can go on. Yet in America, it is very hard being a person of color.  The structure of this country is built on marginalizing the poor, the colored and the different. This has to stop. As a Black American, there are days that I find myself angry that in 2016, we still struggle and live in an unequal society. It infuriates me that blacks are continually losing their lives because of skin color. It pisses me off to hear that our pain and struggle is dismissed because slavery is over, segregation was abolished, laws were put in place and we have black president. If anything, these things show that racism and equality is not something that can be changed by just law. I find myself angry and I question it. Why am I angry? Should I be angry? 

Blacks' history in this country has constantly been about getting freedom, equality and being treated as human beings. To obtain these things, we fought with non-violence, spirituality and black power. We made many strides and have been successful in many ways, but there is a reality. As we fought and discussed how to get our freedoms, as we protest, changed laws, and integrated schools we did not change hearts. Not fast enough to extinguish the beliefs and narratives America created about what blacks are and deserve. Those toxic tales successfully spread and rooted itself in the fabric of America and seeped into American systems – education, housing, career, and prison. We see more blacks in prison than in schools. There are more homeless men of color on the streets than taking care of their families. These are more than the results of bad choices made by these individuals. This is also the result of racism, inequality and irresponsibility of America of the choices it made centuries ago. That should make us all angry.

The negative narrative of the Negro was not just believed by whites; but by many, even black people. Those words. Hearing them and living them daily and being treated like third-class citizens cuts into your soul, making some of us hate ourselves and in turn, teach that self-hatred to next generations. The outcome is a world that everyday, rather it knows it or not, makes me, and others who look like me, face and fight racism daily. 

It makes me so mad that people cannot see that America has taken so much from blacks and others of color, dehumanizing us for so long and when America was pushed to change its ways, it was done with little or no reconciliation, repentance or repayment. America is too arrogant to truly be sorry.  To live in a country that ignores my pain; to be told to pick myself up from my bootstraps, when you took them and burnt them the day you met my forefathers. That truly makes me angry.

I am tired of being angry, so I know you are tired of the guilt, but it ain’t going away until you stop benefitting from it and we stop struggling because of it. Talking and understanding from all sides must be done. Many things in this world are mimicking what is happening in the good old US of A and I truly believe the world would be different if America was a more loving place. As I am writing this, we just had another mass shooting in Florida, killing 49 people. It was a hate crime against LGBTQ and the Latin and Hispanic communities.  Hate. That is what America teaches. We learned through people like Martin Luther King Jr. to oppose hate with love. That is what we are doing, but how long can you love when things do not change? Minutes? Days? Years? Decades? Centuries? I don’t want to be angry, but I cannot deny that I am. I am also open to talking and being part of real change and doing it in a productive and loving way. 

 

510611_1994_480959

 

Neighborhood Naming

What part of Detroit do you live in? When I was younger, there were only two answers to that;  West Side or East Side. That was it. It is different today. You can get all kinds of answers that are a lot more specific than west or east. Corktown, Northend, Jefferson-East, Woodbridge, Grandmont-Rosedale, Brightmoor, Springwells, Downtown, Midtown, and the names go on. Take a look at this map:

 

DataDrivenDetroit-Map

 

My West Side status has now become Northend. Nothing's changed but language and narrative. This is a definite sign that Detroit is in the midst of gentrification.  First, let me say that neighborhoods and even some of the names of the neighborhoods you see in the map have existed for some time.  Conant Gardens, Boston-Edison, Indian Village, Corktown…but these names were not used by the majority of Detroiters to explain location, where they live or who they were.   Again, most Detroiters used East Side and West Side. So where did East Side and West Side distinctions come from? Well, talking to older Detroiters, that language came out of segregation, redevelopment and racism.  I learned that East Side and West Side were used to really signify the area where blacks predominately lived (East Side) and the areas where whites predominately lived (West Side). After the riots and white flight, poorer people, mostly black stayed East and those with more  resources took advantage of white flight and moved West. It didn't seem that it mattered what side of Detroit you grew up in when I was growing up. By the 80s most of Detroit was equally struggling  regardless of what side you lived. Those West Side and East Side walls were seemingly coming down and we were all Detroiters, struggling together. 

Today, different walls are being built as new people and energy come to the city and redevelopment happens in more areas. This new energy has created new language to describe the vast-ness of a Detroit that they are not familiar with.  Those of use who have lived here a while might feel some kind of way about the new language that is used to describe our city.  Why do we need to segregate and dissect the city any more than it already is?  Why do we need to rename neighborhoods? For someone new or unfamiliar, a name of a neighborhood becomes way more important than generalizations like west and east. It's human nature and it is kind of understandable. 

From a developers point of view, branding or rebranding is key to successful investments in the neighborhoods of Detroit. Rebranding areas so that they are seen differently; giving neighborhoods a new story and a new interest is part of the business of making money out of a city that has become a place of opportunity. But sometimes rebranding and changing narratives cover up old things that are still good and valuable. 

Naming neighborhoods may seem small, but replacing someones language with your own can be seen as initial steps of replacing one group of people for another. I am sure that most of this is not done on purpose (for most of us), but if we do not address it, will continue. I do not think that is honorable way to do things.   Change is needed but honoring history as we change is needed to. Talking about why things are the way they are and why they need to change is part of progress. When we replace, remove without conversations, we cause fear, animosity, jealousy, hate. 

Personally, I do not want to be known as living in the Northend of Detroit. I don't even want the status of Westsider. I want to be known as a Detroiter. The imagery that comes up when I tell someone I am from Detroit is most important. This means I am a hard worker, creative, raw, open, honest. I can withstand hardships and come out looking beautiful. I am as complex and simple as things can be. I can make something out of nothing. I can play but I don't play.

As we move on, more neighborhoods will be named, but I hope that developers and new Detroiters talk with the standing community and make sure that they are supportive of the new language and narratives that are created or we are no better than some of our forefathers and mothers who have come to lands without honoring and recognizing those who already reside in them. 

SaveSave

Deontae Mitchell

Deonate

Yesterday,  the citizens of Detroit learned of the death of a young man named Deontae Mitchell. His body was found in a field. I heard the news on the radio as I drove to my parents home. My heart ached and I shook my head. How senseless and heartbreaking. A couple of days ago, this young man was kidnapped in Detroit. He and a cousin were at the corner store purchasing a "pop." While there, a man who was urinating near the store dropped some money and Deontae picked it up. Once the man found out he lost his money, he pulled out a weapon which made all of the people around the store run. Unfortunately, Deontae was caught by this man and his acquaintances and placed in their vehicle. The next time Deontae was seen was in that empty field, lifeless. At the time of this post it is unclear exactly how he was killed. You can read details here.

How can a man take the life of another young man. How can a black man, knowing the challenges this little boy already have ahead of him, hurt him so? Why not reach out and teach him? Why not be the man and not a bully? It is the horrible patterns of our society and of that individuals experiences that created this.  

This is a parent's biggest fear and the worst part of our  society. There is a part of us human beings that have put more value in money than in human life. It is a part of us that allow anger and madness to take over us and extinguish the light of a young soul. This energy is in our society and can only be removed through love of ourselves and others equally. 

Love. We saw it, even in this horrible event. We saw the love of a family as they shared their hurt and pain. We saw the love from the Detroit Police as they look for the young boy. We saw love from the community as they provided all the information they could to find they perpetrators. We saw the love of the community as we heard the news we did not want to hear and we supported the family in their grief. Let us continue to love. Love children that are growing up now so that they will become loving adults and will not become monsters that take lives senselessly. Love each other now and let people know how important and amazing they are. It is important to our society, our humanity and our future. 

These Shoes: Brooklyn

Shoes_black

In 2011, I got kicked out of my loft in midtown Detroit. Not just me, but every person that lived in that building had to go. There were zoning issues, and the basement was not within code. For a while I think the sewer was backed up and the smell was filling the halls. My loft was beautiful but it was owned by a slumlord. After we all had to leave our homes, I felt so displaced. I had no where to go but back to family.  I wasn't ready for that, so I took the rent that I would have used to pay for my loft and took my first solo trip to Brooklyn.  

These are the shoes I wore as I walked the streets of Brooklyn. I stayed in Bed-Stuy an economically-mixed neighborhood that at one time was predominately black. I loved the way it felt. It was filled with mom and pop stores and restaurants. People were in the streets walking and talking. I wasn't alone but I also felt like myself more than ever before you know. There was a groove and energy in the pavement and these shoes caught it and took me through Brooklyn to Manhattan to Harlem. 

We find one of my favorite locations, Fort Green. From the feel it seemed to be a gentrified location, but I found some lovely things. BAM, and Moshood for starts. I found a great place to sit, right in front of the Target across from the Barclay Center and in this spot I saw much more. I saw how the old and new of Fulton collide. On the left of me and behind me I see the new and diverse and consumerism and as I look to the right I see what I could only assume was old Brooklyn. Old Fort Green. So many people waiting on the bus to leave this place of merging worlds to go to their separate places. There is a beauty to it. I loved watching it more than a movie. 

These shoes were with me when I got lost in Harlem and I decided that I will take any subway to get out of the hot heat of the concrete and the lack of shade.  These shoes got me to Bay Ridge to see a friend of a friend. It was so different from the rest of Brooklyn I walked through. It had a Midwest feel and made me homesick for the first time on the trip. 

I wore these shoes on the plane. It was a way of bringing Brooklyn with me and connecting it with my hometown once I landed. I promised myself to visit Brooklyn every year. I kept that promise until life sent me back to Houston.  

 

 

These Shoes: Houston

Shoes_gray

These are my Chucks; my Converse. They are in bad shape because I really wear and use the hell out of them. I purchased them in January 2014.  I moved back to Houston after three years of being away.  All of my boxes of clothes and most of my other belongings that I sent a week before my move were lost in transit.  I was really distrubed by this. Who wouldn't be. The only thing I had left was a pair of Mary Janes, black booties and maybe five outfits.  I needed some shoes that were comfortable. My car had not made it to Houston yet, so a friend took me to Target. 

This was the last pair of Converse and they were on sale. I tried them on and got right in line to pay for them. They were very comfortable. These shoes were the purchase they made me realize that everything I lost could be replaced. I was safe, I had a roof over my head and I had friends who cared enough for me to take me to Target. 

Thankfully my clothes were found a week later, but these shoes became a symbol of two weeks of transition from Michigan to Texas that didn't go that smoothly. These became my go to shoes, like Linus and his blanket. I wore them on my walks in the park and to work. They were my "take out the grabage at night" slip ons. After work, when no one else was around and I had to work late, I would change out of the Mary Janes into these. 

These shoes saw a lot. They took me to different parts of Houston and made me feel at home. Each spec of dirt, each hole and rip embodies the last two years of my life in Houston. It has been wonderful. In a few days, I am moving back to Michigan. I am excited to move back home, but sad to leave my other home. I will always come back to Houston yearly, but while I am away, I can always look at my Chucks and remember. 

Detroit is Colorful

11874465_10153560814278914_383394054_o-2

Summertime is an amazing time in Detroit. It is green, beautiful, gritty. You see more people on their bicylcles and their bikes.  The ice cream trucks going up and down the streets.  I love it. One of thegreatest things about it is this is festival time. From July 4th weekend all the way to Labor Day weekend, Metro-Deroiters can find free entertainment and fun for themselves and thier families. There is so much I am going to give you this link to look at.  There are a couple of fee-based festivals. Those tend to have a specific audience there. Fees tend to exclude people from taking part. This is so outside of the Detroit philosophy. That is a different blog post. This blog post is about a free festival that has been going on in Detroit for over 30 years. World Fest.  

I almost missed it. Work was so hectic, but you know, my nieces were bored and it was 7 PM at night. Why am I working? I stopped and we went.  You could hear th music as we parked. It was wonderful from music from Ghana, to Raggae, to Jazz, music from the Middle East. You could not help but move to it. The music was the beginning. The mateiral, clothes, art, jewlery, frangrances.  

3q-newsletter-backpage1-e1438890412782

 

The people. I saw so many different types of black and browns in the sea of people. From the darkest of skin wearing skater jeans to a light skin sister with dreads and a dashiki. Look at how colorful Detroit is? I felt real and connected to my city through this experience. What I saw, you don't see in media. Positive and lovely – black and brown Detroiters having a good time. Engaged with their city. Loving what it brings.  More of that needs to be seen becasue, in actuality, this happens on a daily basis in Detroit somewhere. That is its reality just as much as the other things we see all the time in the news. 

My nieces loved it and we planned to take $200 with us next year so that we can go home with some cool material and fragrances.  I would had to have kicked myself if we missed that experience. 

african-world-fest

AWF.-timbuktu

bilde

Can I Find Honor Here?

rejected_by_oppet2-d427dqr

I've gotten more patient as I've gotten older. I know that things take time and important things may take a lot of time. I am okay with these facts and the process of making things happen, but I think what I may be experiencing in my hometown is not just a slow process. It may be rejection.  Let me explain.

When I returned to Detroit a little less than three years ago I wanted to make a change in Detroit using the skills and talents I've been blessed with. I wanted to be part of the changes that were already happening in Detroit.

I got involved and I created. I made plans and went to action. The outcome has been more failures than successes. I know that this is part of creating too. But I must ask is my incessant failure process or is it that I am trying to make something occur that is not suppose to. This theory sticks in my mind most clearly when I see others successfully creating and succeeding with less effort.

I went to the Bible for answers. I am a church girl and though I do not go to church on Sunday, it is with me always.  I remembered a story about Jesus. This story was about his journey back to his homeland to preach the word. He had just began his first teachings and decided to teach at home in Nazareth. He was not well accepted. In fact he was rejected. The verses say (New Living Translation) Mark 6:1-6:

"Jesus left that part of the country and returned with his disciples to Nazareth, his hometown. The next Sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. They asked, “Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Maryand the brother of James, Joseph,Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.

Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.” And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their unbelief."

I am not Jesus but maybe his story reigns true in my life a little. Maybe though I have a gift I want to share first with my family, friends and hometown; just maybe they cannot be able to see that gift or  hear that story from me just yet. And because of that, maybe I cannot do as much as I want in Detroit yet. That does not mean stop my vision. I just think it means I have to take another road to my vision. It makes me a little sad, but I do trust the process and am open to the po

I have a vision that will always involve Detroit. But I think it needs to be beyond this city to really be what God intends, you know. Just think if Jesus or Buddha or Moses or Muhammad did not go beyond their borders?  I may not find honor in my city right now, but I will find it, for sure.

A Heart is a Heart

shutterstock_145667252_blog

I really love Detroit. It is my hometown and it is also a place that has fed my spiritually and creatively. But it has been hard for me. There are so many amazing things I am doing and want to do in this city, but have not really been able to do them in a way that I want.  Its been disheartening at times, but I continue to go for this, because it is my vision to see abandoned spaces changed into creative space; to see people come together and transform themselves and their neighborhoods, together. I will see this happen.  But the question is, will this great vision come to pass in Detroit?

Recently, I’ve had this opportunity in a different city come into my world. It is something I really want to do and see the potential in the work. Yet, it will pull me away from Detroit. Its been such a conflict for me. I want to be this creative energy that dynamically changes Detroit into an amazing place, but it seems my role is somewhere else.  It is sad really to see the beauty that is going on in your hometown and have a realization that you won’t be part of it; at least not in the way you want and not at this moment.

I shared my thoughts and despair with a friend. How I want so badly to connect with the people of Detroit, share the magic of creating and transform myself, those who connect with me and my city through art. You know what she said to me? I am paraphrasing here, but she said something like, “A heart is a heart regardless of what city it is in. If there is a heart you can touch and change, do it.

She’s right.

I’ve had others tell me something similar, but today I heard it an listened. My vision does not change because my location changes AND the truth is I may not be part of the changes of Detroit now, but I will be at some point because that is part of my bigger vision. It will be okay.

I want to change not only Detroit, but the world, and now that I have stepped through the invisible limitation, I can do just that.

Empty Canvas…Not

blank_canvas

I use to abhor standing in front of a blank canvas and making that decision. What will be the first color or mark that goes on that clean and empty space? Will that first mark be the dooming mark of creative disaster or will it be the beginning of a masterpiece?

That feeling is there every time I start a painting, but after years of painting I now understand that I have the tools and know-how to make a mistake turn into something beautiful or even better; turn what looks like a mistake into a new unexplored place, which may change what and how I paint from the moment I placed that mark on the canvas. Starting a new painting is a challenging and beautiful experience. However, all paintings do not start with a blank canvas.

A couple of weeks ago, I stood in front of an old painting of mine that I always thought needed more. I stared at it for years (8 to be exact) before inspiration hit. There were some parts I covered with white primer and redrew, but most of it needed a layer or two of paint, crayons, markers and voilà, it became this great painting that I proudly shared with others. The core of the painting was still the same, but the accents and the little bit of redraw made it something to look at.

Sometimes people refer to Detroit as a blank canvas and some people react to it and mark on this city like a blank canvas; as though nothing existed before they made their strokes.  Some mark on this city because they do not care about this place, or themselves really, but others mark on this city because they are misinformed. These people come and create, not taking in consideration that art (people, history, ideas, direction, life) already exist in this place and in their ignorance, they cover and destroy the beauty that attracted them to this city in the first place.  Without a thought, removing memories, people and color; misguidedly making a beautiful canvas of uniqueness into one that is no more than a dull shade of gray.  There are things happening in this city that are so wonderful and I am excited to see them grow, but I have a desire to still see the core of this city’s being through the beautiful colors and lines that we Detroiters, old and new, are making.

What I am asking as an artist and a Detroiter is that we honor what is already here as we create. Let us be honest when something needs to be redone and removed, but always do it as betterment of the city and not for the betterment of an individual. Let us include those that have been here and plan with them in mind as well as those that are coming. Let us not look at this city as a blank canvas but a beautiful opportunity to make life wonderful for the 700,000 who have made this home for decades and for the many more who will make Detroit their home in the near future.

Detroit HOUSE Project 2

Detroit House Project 2 is the artsy side of this community project. Here, you will see posters, paintings and some illustrations of houses that will support the Detroit HOUSEProject effort. It is a fun way to do some good in the world. Here is the first entry for HOUSE Project 2.

20130917_190846-1
DATE: September 17, 2013 | HOUSE Project 2 – 4×5 painting

Remember as kids, when you drew a house it included a square for the base of the home, the triangle as the roof and rectangles for the chimney and windows. You can’t get simpler than that. What a simple vision that can have so much impact to our lives. A house that could become a home for a family or a hub for a community.  Please come back to this page to see the progress of this project over the next few months.