Is Writing Still a Gift?

Photo by Lisa Fotios

When I was coming up, we treated writing like a special gift, and those who could write well felt like they had superpowers. Or at least I did.

In elementary school, I was a terrible student. I got straight F’s, and the source of my lousy grades was math. I failed the sixth grade twice and almost failed the seventh grade. 

Correction: I did fail the seventh grade, but someone had mercy on me, and I passed on to the eighth grade. I cannot say for sure today how it happened. Only I am glad it did.

By the time I was in eighth grade, I was seeing a special ed teacher. Every day he would come into our class, they would announce the special ed teacher was here, and the four, five, or six of us would stand and leave with him. 

If that weren’t degrading enough, the work we did in that small room was fit for a first grader. Two plus two and four plus four. It was frustrating because the math I needed help with was the eighth-grade stuff.

I knew that one plus one was two. I didn’t know how it applied to the more advanced math in the other room. Still, they would give us these long worksheets with these kindergarten math problems, tons of them all down the paper. Some days, they would give us candy. 

It was humiliating, and I would go home and vent my rage in my diary. I would write about how it felt to be singled out in front of the entire class and for the teacher to utter the words, “The special ed teacher is here,” which I thought was unnecessary. The lack of discretion seemed to me a lack of care for our feelings as students. I felt stupid and if that’s how I felt, I am sure the other kids felt it, too.

And then something happened.

This same teacher discovered I knew how to write. Suddenly, everything turned around. I cannot even say for sure how it happened. I still did not understand the math, but the more I wrote, the better my grades got. By the time the school year ended, I had an armful of academic awards and was graduating with honors.

Photo by Anna Tarazevich

Writing got me out of the eighth grade and into honors classes in High School. (Even honors math.)

Writing got me into College while still in High School. I attended Robert Morris College in my Junior year for early credit. I would go to High School in the daytime and then take the green line downtown for my college course in the evenings. It was dark when I got home every day.

Writing got me into AP Literature, graduating High School with honors, tenth in my class.

Photo by Thirdman

The Point of it All

For writers like me, writing isn’t something we dreamed up on a whim, but is an intimate part of our lives. It is something we can trace as ever-present. For us, writing is a deeply rooted passion that played a major role in developing who we are.

My concern now is writing isn’t taken as seriously as other gifts. Do we even consider it a gift? Indeed, one can learn to write through education, training, and coaching, but is it still a gift

Are there still people who are natural wordsmiths? People, who go the extra mile to string words together into comprehension? People, who devour books like a man starving? And is writing still opening doors for them? As it did for me?

Do we still consider writing a gift, or is everyone a writer?

Let the Words Be Seasoned

Photo by DapurMelodi from Pexels

There are times when Black authors find themselves fighting against those who wish them to edit their soul. Take the salt out the meat. Take the voice out the work, and leave it seasonless. To quote Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, “People still have a white, western idea of how intellect is ‘spose to walk in the world.” 

Let it not be lost that how Black people speak, including how we write, has been under fire since the days they forbade us to read and write. Considering us fools (and hoping we’d believe we were), they told us our language was broken. Told us massa was some jumbled version of master to justify our alleged stupidity and inhumanness. (Note: Massah is a Hebrew word meaning burden or oppressor. We called them what they were.)

The audacity to dilute language rich in culture by “correcting” it is just as brutal as stripping away someone’s name and replacing it with your own. What does your Ph.D. in poetry have to do with my grandmother’s tongue?

The way our slang terms do not always mirror what is heard or written within collegiate circles.

The way proverbs and parables roll off the tongue only to be shackled to some white scholars’ standards of brilliance. He think it’s nonsense how Jay Jay and Man Man ‘nem talk about how they be chillin. Or how Aunt Lou tells one of her grandchiren to go wrench off this spoon. She puts her hands on her hips, waves and says ‘How you?’ (She means it the way she says it, leaving out the ‘are.’) 

The way the world attempted to tuck knowledge away from us, hide from us its secrets. (Though, we already knew them.) 

Black writers do not need to sacrifice their soul or shapeshift into white standards of intellect to create something beautiful. They need only to be who they are and let the words be seasoned.

Yecheilyah’s 5th Annual Poetry Contest 2022: Apply to Help

As many of you are well aware, I host an online poetry contest every year. The purpose of the competition is to give back to the poetry community by spotlighting the next dope poet. I also host the contest to shine a light on the power of poetry which can often be underrated. 

We are in our fifth year, but I will need some help.

To help me coordinate this year’s contest, I am putting together a team by choosing people to join me behind the scenes.

If you would like to join me in organizing our 5th Annual Poetry Contest, please click on the link below and submit your application. 

This year’s theme is Freedom.

Do keep in mind that if you are on the board to help, you cannot enter the contest. So, if you are a poet looking to submit a poem for this year, do not sign up.

You also do not need to be a poet to help. I am looking for people in all areas right now, from help with promotion to prizes.

https://tinyurl.com/yecheilyah

Do You Know Your Somebodiness?

Crazy to think that in just a few short hours, this day will be part of history. As I write this, I think about how easily today becomes a memory. The question is, will it be a day worth remembering? Will I remember a cold day with clear skies and the birds building their nests in the tree outside my bedroom window?

As I sit here wearing my I am Black History sweatshirt and my blackballed fists earrings, I am forced to ask myself what it means. What does it mean to be the embodiment of black history? 

When I think about it, I think about legacy. Those things we leave behind for others to grab onto. We live in a world where a person’s significance is realized the most after death. Something about the absence of their presence forces us to consider the nobility of the lives they lived and what we take from it.

Toni Morrison once said, “the function of freedom is to free someone else.” I think about the responsibility of that, and I resolve that being black history in the flesh means to live my life in such a way that black people feel free. 

Still, I am constantly contemplating what that means in all its fullness. How does a person feel free? What parameters must exist for an individual to feel uncaged? These are not simple questions to answer, yet I think we answer them daily with our actions. I think we answer them with the lives we live.

Alice Walker said “the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” I supposed this is why Dr. King talked about holding on to your somebodiness, because your somebodiness is your power. Your sense of identity and belonging. Your truth. 

Do you know your somebodiness? Do you know your mother’s name and her mother’s name? Do you know your people? Do you know from what root you sprang? How much time do you spend investigating how to reclaim your own identity? You say you are black history. You wear the shirts, use the hashtags and pump your black fists into the air, but do you know your name? Do you know what was taken from you? Do you know what was not?

Do you know your own somebodiness

The Sound of Silence

Photo by Arthur Brognoli from Pexels

A lot is going on in the world, so I sit here bathed in solitude and fishing for a thought. Let the noisy silence of second hands and chirping birds lend me the inspiration needed to write. Let the calm of the rain suicide its face onto my windowsill, onto shingled rooftops, ripping puddles, or perhaps it will only melt itself into the concrete.

Have you ever sat back and listened to silence? It is hypocritically noisy. I can hear the laughter of locusts and the singing of birds as they intercourse themselves into the wind. This noisy wind. It whistles and shouts and spreads its hum across the troposphere, just silent enough for us not to notice amid the growling of car engines and groaning of electricity. If you listen closely enough, you’ll hear angels sing in the wind.

Give me not the physical right now. Not the booming lyric of music or the chatter of distraction. Give me focus so I may snag a thought from the roaring voices of spirit and memory hanging from the pictures on my wall. We are familiar with the sound of noise, but not the noise of silence. Not the tickle of an idea brushing past our thoughts or the seductive wooing of trees to wind. The giggling fabric against the windowsill. The peaceful lullabies of daylight.

Indeed, nature has its way of suckering us out of quiet, but what an incredible stillness.

Yecheilyah’s Book List 2021

Hey guys!

As we wrap up 2021, I thought I’d copy off Barrack Obama and share my book list, a combination of Trade and Indie books I read this year. This list is based on books I’ve read or am reading now. I missed a lot of hot releases reading for research, so I only got around to about twenty books this year, and not all of them were published in 2021. And for the sake of time, I will not talk about every book.

So heerree we go.

Just as I am by Cicely Tyson

This list is in no particular order, but if it was, this would still be the number one read for me this year. Publishing a memoir is among many of my author goals, and the way this was structured is precisely what I have in mind. Cicely Tyson’s Just as I am is not only a memoir. It is a magnifying glass on 96 years of black history told through the eyes of someone who lived it in real-time. A perfect blend of personal testimony with the political and social climate of the times, a poetic proclamation to some of the most historical events of the 20th Century. 

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

Listen, if you can get me to read your book and keep reading it or think about it so much when I am not reading it, I want to pick it up at my earliest convenience to finish, then you can make the top of my list. This book was hilarious and thought-provoking at the same time. It was also refreshing that the book was not too long and engaging enough to read in one sitting. I hadn’t done that in a while. I enjoyed it.

Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans

I read the first half of this book at the library while I was supposed to be reading Amanda’s new book. No shade to Gorman, but I had to let hers sit to the side a lil bit reading this here. I love Jasmine’s rawness. She is all fire and straightforwardness. When I got home, I bought my own copy.

Promise That You Will Sing for Me: The Power and Poetry of Kendrick Lamar by Miles Marshall Lewis

For clarity, this is not a memoir. It is biography written by pop culture critic, essayist, literary editor, fiction writer, and music journalist Miles Marshall Lewis. I really like how he structured this, mixing pop culture, some hip-hop history leading up to Kendrick’s birth, and Lamar’s coming of age story.

The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman

Because I heard this poem recited first at the Presidential Inauguration, it’s so fun to read because Gorman’s voice is in my head. I can read this repeatedly because it’s short and inspiring.

Will (Currently reading)

I literally just got this book yesterday, but I had to put it on the list because I think Will is dope so I know this book will be entertaining. Looking forward to digging in.

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers

This book is mad thick, so no, I have not finished reading it. What I have read so far is good, though, and I will be picking this back up again for sure.

The Queen V: Everything You Need to Know About Sex, Intimacy, and Down There Health Care by Dr. Jackie Walters

Ladies, listen. There are so many myths surrounding this here vajayjay of ours. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy of this book by Married to Medicine’s Jackie Walters. She’s an MD of Comprehensive Women’s OB/GYN, located in Duluth and Dunwoody, Georgia, and is a household name in the Atlanta area. If you know her from the show, the book reads in her voice, which is cool.

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

If you want to learn about how the US government systematically imposed residential segregation: with undisguised racial zoning; public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities; subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs; tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation; and support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods, this the one.

Immersed in West Africa by Terry Lister (Indie)

I enjoyed “traveling” with this author on his journey through Senegal, Mauritania, The Gambia, Guinea, and Guinea Bissau.

Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James W. Loewen

They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South (Current Research Book)

Chile. If you want a history of Karen’s behavior, babbyy. This the one.

Family Medicine: A Psychological Suspense Thriller (Indie)

Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman (Currently reading)

I am not as invested in this one as I was in the first one, but I’m still enjoying it.

Things I Wish I Said by AVG (Indie)

Fields of Grace by Wendy Waters (Indie)

Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams (Research Book)

Ya’ll notice my nails got better in the latter part of the year? Cause this was this summer, and what in the messy nail polish is going on here, lol.

Living in the Land of I am: Your Life Journey Reveals Your Purpose by Tiffany James (Indie)

Life After Death by Sister Souljah

I had such high hopes for this book. Read my full review here.

She Wins (Indie)

When Poets Pray by Marilyn McEntyre

I did not enjoy this book like I thought I would. I should have researched it more, but I judged it by its cover and title, both of which I think are awesome. But I’m gonna have to pass.

I’m Speaking Now: Black Women Share Their Truth in 101 Stories of Love, Courage, and Hope

A compelling anthology. Highly recommended.

Books I Didn’t Get Around to but Want to Read:

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story by Nikole Hannah-Jones

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

Feeding the Soul by Tabitha Brown

You Got Anything Stronger? by Gabrielle Union

And that’s my book list for 2021!

Have you read any on this list? Tell me your favorite!

Looking Back to Look Forward

Harper High School Pen Pal Program, circa 2005-ish, Locale: Downtown Chicago

Although I tried out once, I was not a cheerleader in high school. I had danced before as part of a community program at Hamilton Park on Chicago’s south side with my twin sister and our cousin. We were taught handstands, traditional African dances (I am not sure of the tribe), and tap dancing. We traveled to put on shows and everything.

But dancing was not for me.

Over the years, as my twin and cousin got deeper into it (joining Pom-Pom teams and creating dances from the latest hits), I grew out of it.

Instead, I read books, wrote in my diary, and joined all the “boring” programs at school.

It didn’t take long to realize I was not like everyone else. The things my peers found exciting did not move me.

What I didn’t realize at the time was how these seemingly boring activities were stepping stones to sharpening my writing skills and preparing me for a career as a writer.

Writing School Plays: During my Sophomore and Junior years, the school employed a group of other students and me to participate in a program where we had to write and perform plays for the school. I do not remember the program’s name, but this was my first official writing job.

Pen Pal Program: The photo above is from a pen pal program between our High School on the south side and a school on the north side. We wrote letters to our pals and introduced ourselves. Next, they filmed us introducing ourselves on camera and swapped it with the other school. And then, finally, we all met up in person in downtown Chicago. This was the first day we all met, and the event concluded with a camping trip in Wisconsin.

The Yearbook Team: I was actually the only member of the yearbook team that year, lol. Everyone thought it would be boring, but I thought it would be fun, and it was. Not only did I get out of class to film assemblies, but I got to follow Arnie Duncan (then the CEO of Chicago Public Schools) and Jessie Jackson around with the camera, snapping pictures that would be featured in the book. 

UMOJA Spoken Word Poetry Group: I was part of a poetry group called UMOJA Spoken Word my Sophomore year. (UMOJA is the Swahili word for unity.) I was already writing poetry, but this group taught me how to go deeper by introducing the mechanics of the craft. 

When I found this photo, I realized that everything I did led to this moment and that everything I do today is also leading somewhere greater.

I don’t know about you, but the fact that our past has shaped us for today and our today is shaping us for our tomorrow is fascinating to me. It is one of the reasons I love history.

The next time you feel inadequate or frustrated with your journey, whatever journey that may be, I hope this inspires you to look back at those special moments in your life. Remember that you are only stepping stones away from where you are destined be.

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