I Need To Read Some Country Hair Stories

I was in Kentucky over the weekend, talking to my girl Crystal Wilkinson, the sassy fiction writer/novelist, and fabulous co-editor of Mythium Literary Magazine (along with her partner, the brilliant and kind artist Ronald Davis.) Click here to read a past feature I did on Mythium.

Crystal had brought me to Kentucky for a poetry reading at Morehead State University, where I read from the Phillis Wheatley project. I think I did all right, judging from the audience’s reaction. I had another  reading at Western Kentucky University as well, kindly hosted by the poet Ricardo Nazario y Colón and the Office of Diversity Programs at WKU. And I read some OTHER poems there, including a few new poems from another project; I do actually write poems that aren’t about Miss Phillis, believe it or not.

Oh, I didn’t want to leave Crystal on Saturday morning! I wrote her a poem on the plane, and then called her when I got home and talked until I ran her battery down on her cell phone. She’s such a wonderful person.

Crystal and I had a long, lovely ride in the car to Morehead for the reading, and I was talking about how I am growing my hair out as long as it will grow—this one, last time. I told her that I only get my hair cut on the “growing moon.” Crystal knew exactly what I was talking about, and she also knew what a “growing hand” meant when I described my hairdresser as having one of those.

When I’ve mentioned “growing moon” and “growing hand” to some other sisters, they look at me with blank stares, and then, they laugh at me and say, “You sure are country.” That is true. I am country, although I’m what another friend would call “Striver’s Country.”

So I wanted to ask y’all to share your country hair story with me in the comments section—I promise I will not revise it and put it in my novel! I already have my own hair stories that I’ve written about. My friend Tayari Jones has shared some wonderful hair stories on her blog, too, but I am looking specifically for COUNTRY hair stories.

If you’re a White lady, and you’ve got something country to talk about concerning your hair, share that, too! Believe me, I’ve seen some White ladies from Texas, and all I can about their hair is “Dang.”

Ok, let me give you one of my own: my grandmother Florence (my mother’s mother who lived in Eatonton, Georgia) used to grease my hair with medicated Vaseline while she yanked through my long curly hair with a comb–curing me of being “tender-headed” and then, and put it in two braids.

The yanking will be familiar to many who are reading this, but I don’t even think they make medicated Vaseline anymore. For those of you who remember it, it smelled horrible and nasty–much worse than Sulphur 8. By the way, did you know that Madame C.J. Walker’s original formula was sulphur-based?

After Grandma fixed my hair, I would stink to high heaven. My hair would be looking all shiny and glorious, and I would trail the awful scent of something dead and decomposing behind me. I was too scared of my Grandma–she was a very scary person–to complain, but she tried to send some of that stuff back home with my mama when she came to get me at the end of the summer. I cried and told my mama, I didn’t want to be laughed at when I went to school. We lived in Durham, North Carolina, the mid-size capital of Black Bourgeoisie Negroes.

You know writing about hair for a Black woman writer is like a Brother writing about basketball, though I have noticed that a lot of short and tall uncoordinated Black men want to talk about what monsters they were “back in the day” on the basketball court. That’s like when Sisters want to tell you how their hair was all the way down their backs when they were little but now, it just won’t grow and they don’t know why.

I think the basketball and hair stories are the equivalent to White men’s fishing stories. Yes, my hair was several inches below my shoulders when I was a child, so I guess that is sort of down my back, but I will not tell you that my hair was the length of Janie Crawford’s when I was a little girl. No, I could not sit on my hair, ok?

I don’t believe in lying about the beauty. Like, I will tell you right now, I was cute for the first nine years of my life, and then, it took me twenty-six years to get back to cute again. My mother disagrees with that last statement; she says I have been incredibly beautiful since I was a baby, but if you can’t depend on your mama to tell a “got that wrong” to you about how pretty you have always looked, who can you depend on?

Anyway, I am jones-ing for the Country South and all its strange wonders, so help me out here. Please leave your “country hair” stories in the comments below. You can be from the city, and this can be a “when I visited my granny Down South” story, too. But just keep it country and honest.

Why I Love Phillis Wheatley's Word

As anyone who has had a conversation with me lasting more than five minutes knows, I am writing a book of poems on the 18th century African American poet Phillis Wheatley, imagining her life and times in colonial New England.

What some folks don’t know is why I started writing the book in the first place, why I thought Miss Phillis would be someone that I would dedicate years researching and writing about. And yes, it has been three years now. That’s just how much I love her and her world.

Just last week, I published an essay about my journey to Miss Phillis in Common-Place: The Interactive Journal of Early American Life. Here’s an excerpt from that essay:

As a student at two historically African American colleges during the early 1980s, I was taught Phillis Wheatley’s poetry, but my professors’ implicit message was that black folks had the responsibility to read her because of her historical status as an African American “first.” Not one of my professors ever mentioned we should read Wheatley because of her artistic merit as a poet. It was stressed to me that Wheatley was neither a political revolutionary nor a “real” poet with any recognizable talent. And frankly, I agreed; based upon my reading of Wheatley’s most well-known poem, “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” and its then-troubling first line—”‘Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land”—I dismissed her poetry for over twenty years.

You can read the rest of the essay over at Common-Place by clicking this link.

Now, I hear y’all saying, “Why would I want to read an essay? That’s, like, completely boring.”

Well, y’all know me: I always stir the pot and start some controversy wherever I go. I don’t know why I’m such a troublemaker. I really, really try to be well-behaved, but it never ends up that way.  In the essay, I start a little trouble, and also, I reveal a piece of never-before published information concerning Phillis Wheatley research as well. And you KNOW you want to know what info is!

You can read some poems, too from the manuscript in progress. Even if you don’t like poetry, you know you’re nosy enough to want to see whether I’ve got skills or not.:-) So click this link to read the brand new Phillis Wheatley poems, too. I hope y’all like them. If you don’t, let me know and why in the comments section. I may not follow your advice on the poetry, but this work isn’t set in stone yet and I am always open to criticism.

Happy National Coming Out Day

Since yesterday was the one-year anniversary of this blog, I wanted to re-post my first political piece that ran last year on National Coming Out Day, October 11, “Pink Suit and Gators to Match.”  (It was a Sunday last year, thus the last line.)

And once again, this year,  I want to show my continuing support as a straight ally of the LBGT community, and let them know, I’ve got their back. I hope you will join me today in showing your support as well. Whatever your sexual orientation, please stand for the rights of others–on this day and all days. Because one day, you may need somebody to stand for you.

Love,

Honorée

“Pink Suit and Gators to Match”

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I was on Facebook yesterday, and my status was “repping” National Coming Out Day, a day that, among other things, should be about having conversations that lead to a better understanding of what it means to be an LGBT person. I’ve been aware of National Coming Out Day since graduate school, but this is the first time I’ve been involved—and I can’t really say changing my Facebook status is some act of sedition.

I mean, just how courageous is it for me to say I’m a “straight ally” of the LGBT community from the anonymous locale of my computer? I’m not the one exposing myself to the scrutiny of anyone. I could be sitting in my underwear typing (not that I’m doing that, of course!) and no one would know the difference.

Then, within minutes of my status change on Facebook, I received a comment from one of my family members, making fun of me because I was supporting this cause. I don’t know why he even started, because I am known in my clan for keeping a figurative switchblade in my pocket at all times. I tried to be nice, though, while letting him know I didn’t appreciate his ignorance and that he needed to get right.

And that’s when I realized, not only do you expose yourself to ridicule, at best, and physical attack, at worst, by living openly as a LGBT person, you expose yourself by even supporting the LGBT lifestyle.

Let me break this down even further: you better not be black, doing either one of the above.

Now, I love being a black person. I wouldn’t be anything else if you paid me ten million dollars. I mean that sincerely. I love the way we talk. I love the food we eat. I love the way black people, no matter how educated and well-off we get, know how to get buck-wild and dance and have a good time. (Ok, seriously, we don’t call a wine and cheese gathering a “party.” Somebody’s deodorant must stop working in order for a party to have taken place, and somebody else’s hair has to go back.) I love that we have survived the overwhelming historical odds against us, and many of us are even thriving, all reports to the contrary.

And I love the fact that, on Sunday mornings, you are liable to see five Negroes (men) in pink suits and gators to match, stepping into church. Two of them will have bowlers on in the same shade. At least one will have a head of freshly-done, relaxed fingerwaves.

Black folks can be sweet people some times, infuriating at other times, and homophobic at all times. Not all of us, mind you. But if a black person calls him or herself a Christian? Well, you can be sure he or she will be praying a gay person into Hell at least one Sunday a month. Martin Luther King said that 11AM on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America, and for Straight and Gay people in the black community, he certainly never lied.

Gay people are not tolerated in the African American church, and the pastors and congregation are open about that–and strangely proud about it. (Don’t get me started on my relatives!) Because a strong belief in God has brought black folks from that to this (to paraphrase the wonderful poet Lucille Clifton), this faith-driven hatred toward LGBT people of African descent has been very hurtful and even has ended in individual tragedy for many families.

This is only a blog; I don’t have any money to give and I’m not in charge of any policy making. But if you are reading this blog today, and you are a member of the African American community, or you are a multi- or bi-racial person with black relatives, please take today to spread this message of tolerance and love for LGBT people of African descent in particular, and to all LGBT people, of whatever ethnic background. Homophobia ain’t cute, y’all, and we need all the love we can get up in this piece.

It’s Sunday, so now, don’t let nobody step on your gators.

Happy Anniversary (Yesterday) To Me!

I’ve been working so hard and writing furiously–won’t talk about that yet, because I don’t want to spoil the mojo, but hopefully I will, soon–that I forgot that yesterday, October 10, was the one-year anniversary of my blog! That’s right: Phillis Remastered started a year ago yesterday.

Initially, I wanted to start the blog only as a writing blog, but then I said to myself, “Self, make this blog about all the things that make you Honorée.” So, that’s how the masthead became about all those issues: gender, writing, politics and race. If you’d like to read the original blog post that started it all, click this link.

When I started this blog, it was the little blog that could. And it’s still not all big and national and featured on The Root or Huffington Post. But as of today, I’ve had over 24,000 hits! And that’s pretty exciting to me. After all, I’m a poet, and the average poet gets about 1500 books in an average print run and sometimes it can take years to sell that one print run.

But really, I started this blog not for hits, but to connect with you: all the folks out there. I didn’t want to just talk to other people who wrote poetry and who existed in academia. I wanted to talk to folks who wanted to talk about the things that affected the world outside of poetry. And I have. And it’s been exhilarating. And it’s helped me through some tough times this year, and also, provided me with serious encouragement on my writing and about changing my teeny, tiny corner of the world.

Sidebar: In all this time, I keep forgetting to say something. The title of this blog comes from a line in a poem I wrote: “We’re living Phillis’s life, remastered.” But I don’t think I’ve ever given credit to a young poet named Remica L. Bingham for helping me with the line in that poem.

Initially, I wanted to use the word “remixed.” but Remica said, no, that was cheesy and sort of strange. So why didn’t I use “remastered” because that sounded so many notes, included the notion of slavery. So while I think that was a brilliant change, I can’t take credit for it. The change belongs to Remica. And I wanted to take this time on my anniversary to say thank you to her.

So hey Remica! And thank you, girl!

And thank the rest of you so much for the reader love, for supporting my blog,  and for making my blog venture so wonderful. I appreciate y’all more than you know. And here’s to another great year!

Here’s some music to celebrate–this is sort of my “old school” anthem.:-)

Blessing the Slave Ships: The Black Remix

A while back, I was at a White girlfriend’s dinner party with some academic friends, and there were two White men there who were gay and who were life partners. During the appetizers, the two men started talked badly about Christianity and Christians, calling them stupid and close-minded and homophobic. I raised my hand and defended myself as a “progressive, pro-gay, feminist Christian.”

They sort of smirked at each other and it made me mad,  but I was at a good friend’s home and there was food on the table. I was raised that you don’t break fool where you don’t pay the rent and you don’t break bread in anger, either. So I let it go.

But a few weeks later, I was spending time with the girlfriend who had thrown the dinner party and I brought up the men’s comments.  I told her that when Black folks came over here on slave ships, they had been taken from everything they knew, and they had to lie in their own physical mess—their feces, urine, and vomit. (I used a harsher word than “feces.” Full disclosure.) This must have been horrible for them.

And so, for many African Americans who had been converted to Christianity, that faith became a gift and a soft place to rest. I knew the practice of that faith had some problems, I said, but as a Christian it hurt me for her to allow people talk nasty about my faith because it took away part of my heritage.

Finally, I shared with my friend that I was a child molestation survivor and a rape survivor, too, and I had been through some real heavy stuff emotionally. (Again, I used another word other than “stuff.”). And for me,  faith in God was the only thing between me and leaving the world before my time. I loved the Lord and I loved His Son, and I wasn’t ashamed to testify about that and the importance my faith had in my life.

Then I changed the subject because I didn’t want to shame her or hurt her feelings or make her think I was looking down on her because she was an atheist; I just wanted to tell her what was on my mind, as a friend and someone who loved her.

Because she was white, I didn’t bring up the strange relationship Black folks have had with Christian theology, either, not the actual tenets of the faith, but what some White men and women have burdened with faith with.  It’s how White Europeans justified their meanness—the slave trade and its accompanying displacement, rape/molestation, and murder of Black women, children, and men—based upon their interpretation of the Bible.

Well before the slave trade started, racist theologians believed that Black people were cursed. They pointed to the story of Ham in the Bible; Ham’s the son of Noah, and he laughed at his father one night when Noah had gotten drunk and lay asleep in his tent, butt-naked. As a result of that laughter, Noah cursed his son. Throughout the ages, racist theologians have said that the “curse” Noah laid on Ham was blackness and his station as  “servant of servants.” (This story occurs in Genesis 9: 20-27 if you want to read it).

And so, for several centuries, Noah’s cursing his son was used to justify slavery.

But read that passage. You don’t see the word “black” anywhere in that Noah-Ham chapter in the Bible. You don’t even see “dark.” But that doesn’t matter, because anytime some racist White “Christians” want to explain why Black folks are less than other (White) people, they point to the story of Noah and Ham.

And in the same way, homophobic “Christians” point to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah or Paul’s letters to lowrate and persecute homosexual people and explain why God doesn’t like LGBT people.

Bishop Eddie Long has done this theological remix in the name of his homophobia, but he is not alone. T.D. Jakes has preached of the sins of homophobia, even as he is celebrated on the pages of Black publications such as Essence Magazine, smiling and flashing his seemingly kind, gap-toothed smile.

On a personal note, I have broken off friendships with Black Christian friends because of their homophobia. I’ve stopped coming to my family reunions, too, because of this religious hatred.  I’ve had people tell me, “Family is family.” But tell me, would you pay hundreds of dollars to show up to a reunion where your White relatives used the “N-word” or your male relatives called women “b—-es” and “h–s”?

You know, I just don’t need good barbecue that bad to suffer through somebody praying about “the evils of men wearing dresses.”

Over the past few days since the Bishop Eddie Long scandal has broken, I’ve been reading many articles about homophobia and the Black church, but what I’ve found so curious and tragic is the twisting of theology. My guest blogger L. Lamar Wilson put his finger right on it, how theology is altered for the purposes of the one who’s really doing the wrong.

Ever since the Eddie Long scandal broke, I’ve been thinking about the notion of slavery, and what I told my friend about those young folks kidnapped and place on slave ships. When we had our talk I didn’t mention that in the past, White folks picked on African Americans because of a biblical interpretation, and now, given the chance Black folks will pick on our own because of biblical interpretations. I was too embarrassed and thought that maybe it would undercut my whole “testimony.”

We Black folks always go back to slavery and talk about how we’ve been “’buked and scorned” over the centuries; we bring up those slave ships that our ancestors rode in, laying in their filth and carrying their heart-hurt. Yet we are now guilty of the spiritual abominations of slave catchers and masters when we nurture homophobia in our community and our churches and say nothing. A few of us blogging and a few more of us reading and quietly saying, “Amen” in front of our computer screens is not going to lift our sins, either.

White slave ship captains would get preachers to cloak those slave ships in the word of God. They used theology to justify murder and rape and child molestation because Africans needed to be brought to Jesus–and now Black Christian homophobia does exactly the same thing and blesses a new kind of slave ship. They use the Bible to tell LGBT black folks–their kin– that they are headed to hell and that Jesus hates them because of the way they were born to love.

If we Black folks are going to talk about the moral responsibility that America owes our Black community, we should think about the type of community we need to be to deserve that ongoing help, because it doesn’t come for free. And a community that justifies hatred or looks away when they see it is not a community deserving of help in the name of morality and in the name of past–or even present– sins committed against us.

Maybe I’m naïve, but I was raised that being African American in this country was supposed to mean something great and worthy, something that we could be proud of.

I was taught by my mother, who is a godly progressive Christian woman, that when we Black folks stand on that testimony rock to talk about the pain of four hundred years, we are lifted up by something greater than ourselves: The struggles of our ancestors. The merciful God of our weary years. The blood of our mighty good Jesus.

Call me self-righteous, but call me a true Christian, too. And to that charge, I hope and pray I am able to answer, “Guilty.”

Bishop Long = Job From the Bible?

Today, I am featuring a guest blog post on Bishop Eddie Long by L. Lamar Wilson, a scholar and poet. Wilson, an English PhD student at UNC-Chapel Hill, has published nonfiction essays in The Washington Post, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Post No Ills and other publications and has poetry in Rattle, Crab Orchard Review, Obsidian, and the forthcoming 100 Best African-American Poems, edited by Nikki Giovanni. His poetry manuscript, Sacrilegion, also engages some of the issues with which this piece grapples.

Bishop Eddie Long: A Call for Humility

…….“It is the attitude of condescension, of arrogance, the ‘holier than thou’ manifestation, much of .…….which I have experienced in missions and observed in the mission field. It says, I am better than ……..you, poor devil, I am really a very different order of being and out of my plenty, out of my ……..advantage over you, I deign to come to your rescue. You ought to be grateful to me. In fact your ……..gratitude must have in it a certain abjectness in order that my position and ego may be rendered ……..even more immune to attacks of unity. … Humility cannot be acquired this way.”

……………………..–Howard Thurman, “Mysticism and Social Change” (1939)

In addressing his congregation Sept. 26, Eddie Long likened himself to the biblical David fighting Goliath, an analogy that’s no less ironic, troubling and illuminating as this case unfolds. The irony lies in the analogy’s anachronistic nature: Although he’s not a seminarian, Long is no novice in his ministry. He’s about as far from a lowly shepherd boy not yet fully aware of his destiny as Goliath was when he met David in battle. The four who have filed suit against Long and those youths who have spoken out so passionately in support of him, however, easily fit David’s profile. The rallying cry at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and in the larger conservative Christian community in this fortnight underscores this contradiction even more. Long is, no doubt, the Goliath in this war of words, a giant cryptically touting “five rocks” he’s poised to throw, dismissing the artfully flung ones now assailing him and the empire he’s defending about the head. His alleged victims’ stones – possibly tossed with a prayer to a God who Long and his followers say is decidedly on their side – have landed well in calling into question years of homophobic messages from a man more than a little obsessed with material wealth and a hypermasculine, hip-hop-inspired persona marked by muscle shirts and ill-fitted toupees that expose what some could call a Peter Pan syndrome.

Sunday, Long softened his tone, but only slightly, saying he won’t be pulled into a “street fight,” aligning himself with another Old Testament hero of suffering and triumph, Job. Extremely wealthy and influential man. Check. Huge family. Check. Beset, with God’s permission, by attacks from Satan such that he loses everything he has. … Wait. Am I missing something?

In fleshing out to this latest analogy, Long quoted one of Job’s so-called friends, Bildad, whose words, intended to console, actually mocked Job. The verse he read, Job 8:22, punctuates the beginning of what would become a verbal assault that exposed Bildad’s limited understanding of God’s purpose in allowing Job to be humbled. “Those who hate you will be clothed with shame, and the tent of the wicked will be no more,” Long said, chuckling as he noted that that verse was not the one he’d intended to read but that the “Holy Ghost” had intervened.

This Job analogy, too, is problematic. The Bible characterizes Job as a “perfect and upright man” who shunned evil. Long’s desire to align himself with Job, then, is clear. Like Job, he says, he feels “under attack.”  On Sept. 26, though, he told New Birth and the listening world: “I am not a perfect man.” Surely, Long has to see that, in this battle of semantics in which he wants to be so careful about what he will and won’t say publicly about these allegations, he must choose more wisely among those, like himself, who often take the Bible so literally. Long has not denied that he brought impressionable, hormonal teens on trips to exotic locales without their parents. That choice alone gives pause to this listener who is by no means a literal reader of the Bible but who can’t exactly settle on how, in do so, Long was shunning the potential for his supposed good intentions being spoken evil of, to paraphrase one of Paul’s New Testament charges.

Herein lies my ongoing struggle with Long, his persona and his theology. I don’t understand how, in a city like Atlanta, Long can at once opt for literal exegesis of Scripture on some issues – namely same-gender love and marriage – and not see how his own strategies and ministry practices could entrap him. I urge those clinging to a religious tradition that ignores or is too eager to forgive and forget accusations of sexual impropriety to reconsider the troubling analogies Long has put forth. Watching young people of faith regurgitate notions of Long as an exalted “prophet” beyond reproach in conversation with CNN’s Don Lemon makes a closer examination all the more paramount. Especially as it relates to his public comments on David.

Neither Long nor his faithful followers seem to have considered the less celebrated part of David’s story, that part in which David becomes a great ruler – a ruler on par with Long’s “bishop” status at New Birth and in the larger conservative Christian community. At this juncture in his life, David, drunk on his own power, has his way with and impregnates the hapless wife of another man, Bathsheba. Once his initial plan to cover up his indiscretions fails, David accomplishes the feat by positioning Uriah to be killed on the battlefield. He then coerces Bathsheba into a marriage covenant rooted in deceit. This union yields sons who die horrible deaths: one at birth, another trying to kill his father. The specter of David’s abuse of power even haunts Solomon, a son who lives to see his own sexual appetite undermine years of wise rule.

Whether these accusations against Long prove true, I cannot ignore that young Bathsheba harkens the fatherless boys Long has guided on his academy’s proclaimed “masculine journey.” How long, then, will he and his zealots choose to ignore these chapters of David’s narrative and legacy, which plumb the depths of his humanity and capacity for inhumane acts? How many more people who speak out about sexual abuse in our churches and our communities will be vilified while the Goliaths they face add insult to injury with their arrogance and ambivalence?

What redeems David in history is his leadership of the Jews through great trial, his poetry, his songs. What makes him a revered “man after God’s own heart,” especially for liberation theology celebrants, is his humility, even as a child warrior and especially in his private and public penitence once the consequences of his hubris manifest. This humility before God and man is what endears us ultimately to Job as well.

But I’ve seen no sackclothes these past two weeks – just Long in his Sunday best holding court before his legion of worshipers. “Humble” and “penitent” have never come to mind when I think of Long, not before these young men filed suit and especially not now. As I watch Long, Thurman’s words about humility echo so powerfully.

But, Bishop Long, if these allegations prove true and when you fully exhibit the humility of the biblical heroes whose names you call, I will be with those who embrace you and extend to you the acceptance you’ve denied so many of us – possibly yourself – for so long.

Becoming the Elder

Two weeks ago, there was a memorial celebration for Lucille Clifton at the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University. Seventy-three poets read seventy three of her poems. Furious Flower, it was founded by Dr. Joanne Gabbin to “advance the genre of African American Poetry by providing opportunities for education, research, and publication.”

It was a wonderful, lovely, classy event. You can see some of the photos at Tayari Jones’s website here.

When I arrived back home, though, I sort of crashed emotionally.  I realized that Miss Lucille is really gone and now I’ve got responsibilities, ones that I keep trying to forget about.

I crossed over the Grown Woman’s River Jordan back in January and I remain confused. I thought that when my grown woman moment happened, my personality would change. Quiet would descend upon me. I’d become soft-spoken and extremely classy and very ladylike and take to wearing muted colors and small pearl earrings. I’d stop pissing people off and getting into fights, something I’ve done since I was in elementary school, first physically and then intellectually.

When Miss Lucille passed, I understood in one quick moment that one day soon, I would be an elder in this Black community and also, in this Black poetry and writing community.  And I understood that on a practical level, but since the memorial it’s really, really hit me–in my gut.

I remember once I went to a poetry reading she did five years ago. At that time, her health wasn’t the best, but when she walked on that stage I saw something fill her and her body literally lifted up. As someone who has a strong belief in God I believe what filled her was the Holy Spirit. For an hour and a half on that stage, she wasn’t frail. Then she came down and she was frail again.

At one point in her reading, she said, “I’m not here on this earth to make White people comfortable.”  I sat there and I was in complete awe of her. And I was completely ashamed of myself, because I knew I could never say something like that out loud, even if I believed it inside. I could never be like her or any of those other women, like Sonia Sanchez or June Jordan or Audre Lorde. I was a hopeless Black Feminist in name only.

Two weeks ago, I saw seventy-three poets celebrating Miss Lucille, her beauty as a person, her poetry, her truth-telling spirit in her life and work, and her courage to tell that truth. Her daughters were there, and I knew they knew her struggles and courage. And I believe her close friends knew that, too.

But from those poets who were my age and younger, I kept waiting for some sign to alert me that they understood that Miss Lucille didn’t  just spring from the head of God, unafraid and ready to do battle in life and poetry. As my oldest friend Kimberly can say, “They don’t know the story, all they see is the glory.”

Black poets do this with the other strong Feminist and/or Womanist poet/women that have passed on, too, including June Jordan and Audre Lorde. These women have given us something more than just words on a page. Because those words weren’t just sent out into the atmosphere. Somebody White and male read them, and many times, got pissed off by those words. And then, they used their power to block those women’s successes and tell them they were insane–because of those words.

Success is not just about money and awards and the adoration of the public. Those who are successful get to change the society for the better or worse. I know now that these Sisters were just as scared as I am and other Sisters like me, but kept fighting anyway. Now that I am grown, I know that strength and courage is not automatically self-replicating from one generation to the next. It is not something passed down through the blood or through community. You have to reach for it. I can’t wait for the warrior spirit to come find me while I sit on my couch, eating potato chips and talking on the phone with my girlfriends about how such-and-such is a damned shame.

Sidebar: Sometimes, I might say something stupid while I’m warrior mode, or start crying because I feel afraid or cuss somebody out and thus, disappoint people who thought I was classier and more ladylike than that. Or I might lose some friends, the folks who sat on the phone talking to me, egging me on to “get buck,” might turn on me in public, and this will really put me down low, because when I love somebody, I love strong and hard and will go to any lengths to make him or her happy. I will also fight somebody in the middle of the street for a friend. Or at least, at the AWP Conference.

That’s the most hurtful part about my trying to be a warrior, understanding that people whom I love will talk of “good” in theory and know all the right vocabulary words, but can’t roll deep with the “warrior” part. Then they start trying to tell me I’m crazy or turning a personal beef into a political battle. This has been going on with me since my late teens, and it makes me wonder why other Black people always want to dismiss a Black woman’s personal issue when it comes to Black (male) community politics.

I mean, ain’t we always telling the White folks that our personal Black lives translate into political American issues? Our inferior schools, our violent neighborhoods, our Brothers in overflowing prisons, our high diabetes and high blood pressure rates because the little store around the corner don’t sell fresh produce–ain’t all that really just personal beefs in the Black community? Yet we Black Feminists/Womanists used to know that “political” doesn’t only take place in a brick building downtown where the (mostly) White folks make laws. It takes place in “personal” communities, because those communities make up the body politic.

See, I can say all that–what I just said in the paragraph above–because I was taught it was okay by Black women with some guts: my mama, my Miss Lucille, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Ida B. Wells-Barnett–oh, just keep going all the way back to the planks of the slave ship. I was even taught how to say it in the first place.

That truth didn’t come easy to those women and neither did the courage to open up their mouths and say it. Certainly not to Miss Lucille. But it came. She was a regular person, not a saint or an angel from God– I tried to make her that because I didn’t want to think that I could do what she did. I wanted to think I wasn’t capable of her courage and that would excuse me of my responsibilities. But she kept telling me she was human.

Now that I am past the age where Miss Lucille was  when she first started fighting those battles, I realize what she did for me–alone. Mostly by herself–except for a good loving man and her children and some friends–with no back-up from her Black community, and certainly not White America. As she said in her most famous poem, “i had no model/born in babylon/both non-white and female/what did i see to be except myself…”

But she was my back-up, and my model, too.