Lessons from Grace Part One

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS

These are the lessons I’ve learned thus far on my journey to give myself more grace.

Commit to Working More on Yourself than Your Business

Because my mindset determines the direction of everything I do, I’ve learned to prioritize my personal development over my business. I’ve realized that adequate rest, a healthy body, and a healthy sense of self-worth aren’t optional; they’re required for increased creativity and productivity. My self-esteem affects how I interact with others and make business decisions.

I accept that to triumph in the daily battle, I must have a strong faith/mind and be rooted in something greater than myself.

I am my best work, and when I am good, everything around me is good. To quote the African proverb, “When there is no enemy within, the enemy outside cannot hurt you.” (Unknown)

Rest well this weekend guys!

Don’t Throw It Away: How Short Stories from My Teenage Years Became An Urban Fantasy Fiction Novel

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood

When I was about seventeen and eighteen, I wrote stories about my sisters and our friends in this red notebook. Then, we would all sit on the porch, and I would read it to the neighborhood. Everyone had nicknames but also knew who they were so it was hilarious, and they loved it.

When I moved out of my mother’s house a couple of years later, I carried that notebook. One day, while reading it, I decided I wanted to turn it into a play. There was only one problem:

I was not the teenager who wrote it.

By now, I was deeply biblical, had loc’d my hair, and changed my name. This hood tale didn’t fit the newer version of me.

I decided to keep the characters but change their names and give them more dignity. They were successful Black men and women instead of whores and hustlers. In the original story, Tina was a lawyer because when we were younger, that’s what my twin sister Tracey wanted to be when she grew up. In the red notebook, Tina was Tracey.

This dope cover for my first screenplay was designed by Black graphic artist Andre Hawkins of Kenosis Design Innovations

I published Pearls Before Swine in 2014, registered it with the Screen Writer’s Guild, and participated in my first book signing at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel in Chicago, which went well. 

And then, I started this blog!

I made the mistake* of naming this blog after the book hence why it’s called thepbsblog. Over time, I decided to keep the name for a few reasons. You can read about that here.

*I don’t recommend authors start blogs and name them after the title of their book any more than I would advise authors to create websites with the name of their books. You will write more books. Are you going to create a new website for every book? It is easier to brand yourself using your name.

Although it did okay when first released, and I love the cover, I better understood how to use my voice and messaging after The Stella Trilogy. I had grown again and vowed to be more relatable. The story was also not properly edited and the plot was confusing to people outside of my immediate circle.

But instead of throwing it away, I reworked the first chapter and shared it on this blog.

Then, I shared another chapter.

And another and another until I was ten chapters into this crazy fantasy world that, to my surprise, ya’ll loved!

And that’s when it hit me.

The story would evolve again.

I would turn Pearls Before Swine into The Men with Blue Eyes. And then, for the last change, I decided I wanted these angels to be women, which is how The Women with Blue Eyes was born. I used the backstory and characters of PBS with a fresh plot.

TWWBE is still heavily spiritual, but in a way where even if you are not religious, you could still relate to it. This was intentional.

I would love for this story to take on another evolution: for Shonda Rhimes to turn it into a TV series. (Somebody tell her people to call my people.)

I am also considering sharing more of the backstory of PBS in another installment of The Women with Blue Eyes. The details about Ronnie and Big Sam and how it all went down was in the first book. This is material I can still use.

When Tina’s nephew, Ronnie is killed, she is left to care for his siblings and to solve a series of mysterious murders involving only Black men. Investigating each murder thrusts her and her team into a world of deities, demons, and fallen angels, leading Tina to battle a serial killer beyond this realm.

The moral of this story is don’t throw anything away! Just repurpose it.

Happy National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. Details on Yecheilyah’s 5th Annual Poetry Contest are pending. For now, here are some of my favorite quotes.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

– Maya Angelou

“If I didn’t define myself, for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”

– Audre Lorde

“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

– Gwendolyn Brooks

“I’m still learning to love the parts of me that no one claps for.”

– Rudy Francisco

“We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.”

– Amanda Gorman

These bitmojis are hilarious, lol.

The Hardest Lesson I Have Had to Learn as an Authorpreneur

One of the biggest mistakes I made on my Authorprenur* journey was doing everything for free. Everything from book reviews to interviews to consults was free at one time. I gave everything away. I even taught people the steps needed to publish books on their own without them giving me a dime.

*A play on the word entrepreneur, an authorpreneur is an author who blends publishing books with business practices. These authors do not only write and publish books, but they build brands.

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This might sound good. It might make your heart melt and make you shout “Halleluyah.” You might do a little praise dance for my commitment to service and admire my generous soul.

But you can save charity for your congregation and your nonprofit programs. This is not good for running a business because you train your audience to expect everything you do to be free.

This is what has happened to me.

Not only did doing everything for free teach my audience to expect free from me, but people also started taking advantage of me. They took the information I gave and tried to do it independently, so they didn’t have to pay for the service.

You also attract a low-paying tribe when you do everything for free.

Once you have set a foundation for giving your services away, it becomes difficult to start charging because you have already groomed and equipped people to expect this service to be free or extremely low-cost. It is much easier to charge your worth from the beginning.

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If you struggle with this or are just starting, you can schedule your day like a workday and only accept work during your work hours. I work from 10a-4p on Fridays. This means anything after 4 is set up for the next workday, Monday at 9am EST.

Now that your day is scheduled, what can you fit in that time? Do you write? Blog? Create Social Media Content? Are you answering questions? Emails? If people are constantly asking you questions, set up a discovery call system and put a price tag on that.

And by questions I mean, like, if you have a skill. Don’t be charging people for stuff and you don’t know what you are doing or talking about. That’s called a scam.

I don’t get paid to blog in general. Like, I am not being paid to publish this post. However, I do charge for Book Reviews, and Author Interviews featured on this blog, something I was not doing initially. After noticing how much time it took me to schedule the interviews (it can take hours) and put together the book reviews (this can take weeks), I switched things up a bit.

When Authors pay for a review* or Interview, it gives me more incentive to follow through. It also ensures I prioritize that project (paid projects supersede free ones). I also charge because I pay for space on this blog. This means this blog is no longer something I do for fun. It is also now part of my business.

*Paid book reviews featured on this blog do not guarantee a positive review so no, authors are not paying me for a positive review. Blog book reviews are also not posted to Amazon as paid reviews are against Amazon’s policy. 

It’s not even about the money. It is about putting value on your time.

Nowadays, saying you’re an entrepreneur can also mean unemployed, depending on who’s talking. The value has been cheapened by people chasing the next hustle. But a hustle is not a business.

The truth is if you are not charging for your work or constantly giving your books away for free, you do not have a business. You are either still hustling to see what will stick or have an expensive hobby.

Click Here for more Indie Author Basics. But Hurry. This series is moving to a new platform soon.

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.

Check out my latest interview with Mack Tight Radio. Be Sure to Like and Share!

Yecheilyah’s 4th Annual Poetry Contest Grand Prize Winner 2021: Tiffany James

Introducing Our Grand Prize Winner

Tiffany James

Instagram: ncouragetouch

Please, tell us what inspired your poem.

I saw the competition pop up on my IG thread, and the theme of love caught my eye immediately. Being that I am a woman known for always speaking about love and pride myself in how I love people, there was no question on whether I would enter the poetry contest. In addition, I had already written a poem on love and initially submitted that poem because I was not sure if I would have enough time to create a new poem. However, after submitting my first poem, I read how participants could submit two poems and the challenge to us poets to look beyond the normal description of love we often see in poetry. This forced me to visualize all the different perspectives of love.

I love it. What do you love most about poetry?

I love that poetry takes on a life of its own. It can be a song, a narrative, a teacher, a friend, a love letter, a movement, etc. It has its own language to the reader because poetry is personal. It not only speaks to us, but it has the power to move us individually in various ways as if it knows each of us intimately. Does that make sense?

Yes, it does! How did you get started writing?

I started writing when I was very young- it was my escape, and writing was my voice. Although I was outgoing and never had a problem with talking, I struggled with my identity (being understood), so my journals were the only place where I could be myself. I loved how words had the ability to say what I wanted to express vocally. In short, when I wrote, I was free to be me, raw and unapologetic.IMG_6117

You are an author. What has that journey been like for you?

I have to say exciting! I love to hear how something I wrote transformed or inspired someone, which is mostly the core of my writing. But it is also hard because if you are not an established author, it is hard to get your work out there when you are self-published. I had to decide to enjoy the journey no matter what, but your greatest desire is for your work to be read as an author—the journey itself has also been an adventurous teacher. There have been many doors of opportunities that opened for me that I never imagined. For example, my book has been used as a resource in a business. I also use my book as a resource in my work as an encouragement coach, not to mention the speaking opportunities.

You are doing such excellent work. I love it.

As I mentioned earlier, you challenged me. That challenge forced me to look inwardly beyond the “emotion of love” beyond “conceptualizing love,” and I was able to see love in ways that superseded my surface emotions and mental awareness. Realizing that love has always been present, but we are often unaware of its presence. I can admit, I didn’t recognize or appreciate it when I was younger because I allowed others to define love for me.

So, I wanted to give tribute to that type of love and the givers of such love. When they gave, they gave all they had. So as the memories washed over me, I began to write, and it flowed from my being. I saw faces- my mother, grandmother, neighbors, friends. I saw our ancestors, their scarred backs, and forgotten history. When I finished, there was joy and sadness within my heart, and I was proud and, without a second thought, submitted it. It deserved to be read even if I didn’t win. I wrote this poem quickly as the memories washed over me.

That’s beautiful and I can tell you put a lot of thought behind your poem. It’s deep and relatable. I felt right away how set-apart your poem was from the beginning.

What would you say is your writing strength and weakness?

My strength is that I can create a piece quickly. If I am passionate about a topic, the creativity flows. I also love taking chances as a writer, even if I am uncertain if I can write about a particular topic or theme. I put myself out there! I believe it is because I know myself, so I am no longer writing to be affirmed as a writer. I fell in love with my voice, whether written or verbal.

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Wait a minute. Sis said, “I know myself, so I am no longer writing to be affirmed as a writer.” That’s a bar.

Okay, go on, lol.

My weakness. Wow, there are two that come to mind. The short one is learning to get out of my head to fully unlock the untapped potential and creativity that I know I have. My second weakness is more of a past weakness, which is fear because it hindered my writing for so long. 

I love it! And I think it’s what sets you apart. Are you working on any writing projects/books?

I am currently a full-time student, so I only take on small writing projects for people, such as writing personalized poetry pieces or short stories for birthdays, events, or special projects.

Oh, that’s cool!

I have more books in me, but I am trying to get through these last two years of schooling. I recently, right before school started, for the first time, had the opportunity to work on a script project for a short series, and I can’t wait to see where it goes. There are still more episodes to be written, and I hope I have the time to be on the rest of the project. I will say this, scriptwriting gave me a new desire to write a fictional book and maybe dabble even more into scriptwriting for films.

Yes! I see it.

Where do you see yourself a year from now?

On my last year of college, celebrating being a writer on the series project I mentioned earlier and seeing it on Netflix or Hulu. My book being not only in other states but other countries and being a best seller. I want to impact more lives through my encouragement, coaching, and writings, and I expect more unexpected opportunities that blow my mind! I am also a huge supporter, so I want to be in a position to help beginner writers in whatever way I can.

That all sounds amazing and I pray you go as far as you are destined to.

And without further ado, I introduce to you “Love Is,” by Tiffany James

Grandma’s Hands by Curtis James, June 27th, 2011

Love is distinctively woven into the fabric of our being
experienced through the ordinary each day
a silent wave of an old memory washing over us; a segue to our humanity.

Love is home, love is grandma’s baby
love is survival and hustling;
cleaning toilets, scrubbing floors, changing diapers, washing clothes by hand, and layaway plans.

Love is spiritual; a scared village, the spirit’s libation, broken history, and love is migration love is food stamps, government cheese, grits with sugar, and collard greens
love is the sand between my toes.

Love is the prize at the bottom of the crackerjack box, love is hopscotch, and double-dutch love is afro-puffs, two French braids and your first French kiss
love is overtime, colored easter eggs, Santa Claus tales, and hand-me-downs.

Love is that switch from the tree, love is praying hands and bended knees
love is loud, silent, large, small, and intriguingly complex —Love is Proud
love is scarred backs and stubborn roots —old hymns and sung negro spirituals.

Love is “I told you so”
love is easy like Sunday morning
love is Betty Wright, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and Patti LaBelle;
a brilliant collaboration of lyrical hands fighting for the same devotion because love is Soul Train.

Love is rich soil to the soul
love is fearless laughter, getting up at 6am, sleepless nights, untold stories and second chances love is the ancestors’ wisdom —the great orator and the greatest debater.

Love is underestimated, yet chosen
love is fierce; righteously angry, patient, and sacrificial — it is the caged bird singing love is the paint, painter, and work of art.

Love is a savior —the hero’s journey
Love is amazing grace
Love is wealth, life, and death.

Love is not weak; it bows down to no one yet surrenders itself to everyone by its own authority — love is badass. Every time I close my eyes, I witness love.

Love is distinctively woven into the fabric of our being.
experienced through the ordinary each day

© by Tiffany James 2021

Today wraps up our poet spotlight for the 4th Annual Poetry Contest. I want to thank everyone who has participated and supported our poets this year. If you want to help coordinate or sponsor next year’s contest, please reach out to me at yecheilyah@yecheilyahysrayl.com. I love hosting these contests, but I can’t do it without your help.

Congratulations again to all our poets!!

You can find their bios on the dedicated page for year four.

Yecheilyah’s 4th Annual Poetry Contest 2021

Yecheilyah’s 3rd Annual Poetry Contest 2019

Yecheilyah’s 2nd Annual Poetry Contest 2018

Yecheilyah’s 1st Annual Poetry Contest 2017

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Sundown Towns

BLACK HISTORY

“Beginning in about 1890 and continuing until 1968, white Americans established thousands of towns across the United States for whites only. Many towns drove out their black populations, then posted sundown signs.” – James W. Lowen

When I first published this article in 2017, I got much controversy about it. I didn’t take it personally for two reasons. First, very little literature covers sundown towns, and not much is said about it in the limited topics covered during black history month.

The other reason is, although these towns were known as sundown towns, the people of the town did not call it that. It was only a well-known fact that some blacks were not allowed in some towns, and if they visited, they had better leave before the sun sets or risk lynching. Therefore, when I wrote about it, some people thought I was making it up.

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Follow me on Instagram @yecheilyah

This past week, I posted this image to my Instagram, and I was surprised to see how many more people had not heard of this. For this reason, today, we are revisiting our black history fun fact on sundown towns.


“Is it true that ‘Anna’ stands for ‘Ain’t No Niggers Allowed’?” I asked at the convenience store in Anna, Illinois, where I had stopped to buy coffee. “Yes,” the clerk replied. “That’s sad, isn’t it,” she added, distancing herself from the policy. And she went on to assure me, “That all happened a long time ago.” “I understand [racial exclusion] is still going on?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied. “That’s sad.”—conversation with clerk, Anna, Illinois, October 2001.

James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (Touchstone, 2006),3

Anna, Illinois, was named after the daughter of the town’s founder but got its more derogatory name after the 1909 lynching of a black man in Cairo, IL, and the mob of angry white citizens who drove out Anna’s 40 or so black families following the lynching. It is at this point that Anna, IL became a sundown town.

A sundown town is a town with an exclusive population of non-whites on purpose. They are towns with overwhelming populations of non-whites and are so deliberately.  Sundown towns were also known as “Sunset Towns.”

“A sundown town town is an organized jurisdiction that for decades kept African Americans or other groups from living in it and was thus “all-white” on purpose.”

Side Note: In the black community, black kids are constantly warned to “come in the house when the street lights come on,” so many of us had to be in the house before the sunset. I wonder if Sundown Towns had something to do with this. Not to say black parents are the only ones with this command, but it’s food for thought.

Although signs were posted, forced exclusion was also implemented:

“There were also race riots in which white mobs attacked black neighborhoods, burning, looting, and killing. Across America, at least 50 towns, and probably many more than that, drove out their African American populations violently. At least 16 did so in Illinois alone. In the West, another 50 or more towns drove out their Chinese American populations. Many other sundown towns and suburbs used violence to keep out blacks or, sometimes, other minorities.”

– America’s Black Holocaust Museum, James W. Loewen, PhD; Fran Kaplan, EdD; and Robert Smith, PhD

The Beginning

Sundown towns began after slavery and the Civil War when blacks left the plantations and poured into every city and corner of the country. This was followed by the system we know as Jim Crow.

Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the southern and northern United States to keep blacks in a state of servitude. It included having to look down and step to the side when a white person walked by, drinking from separate water fountains, entering the rear of the bus, sitting in the balcony of the movie theater (which came to be known as “Nigger Heaven,”), attending separate schools, and more.

While Jim Crow and segregation are most notably known as a southern practice (“The Jim Crow South”), it also existed in the north. In fact, many parts of the north were more segregated than the south, and when it comes to Sundown Towns, these communities mainly existed in the north as the Great Migration brought floods of blacks into northern cities. Many suburbs to this day are mostly white because they were either part of redlining -the systematic denial of various services to black residents either explicitly or through the selective raising of prices – or its white residents ran its black residents out of town, and the descendants of those people kept it that way.

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I’ll use Chicago as an example, still one of the most segregated cities in America. Yes, I said Chicago. Remember, we started this conversation with Anna (“Ain’t No Negroes Allowed”), Illinois.

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From Time .com / Bettmann / Getty Images

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Chicago in 1966 due to the high poverty rate in black neighborhoods and rented an apartment on the west side. He was there as part of what he would call The Poor People’s Campaign and the Freedom Movement. On August 5, 1966, King led a march through Cicero, an all-white district, and was hit in the head with a rock by members of the angry mob.

Years later (the early 80s), my brother-in-law and his friends would be chased out of this same area, racial slurs hitting their backs as they rode their bikes out of Cicero.

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This statue below is of Orville Hubbard, which sits outside of the City Hall in Dearborn, Michigan, was the cause of much controversy when people started to learn more about his past.

Hubbard was the mayor of the then all-white suburban town outside of Detroit from 1942 to 1978 and, in a 1969 speech acquired by the New York Times, said that “If whites didn’t want to live with N–they sure didn’t have to.” He went on to say this was a free country, and this was America.

“City police cars bore the slogan ‘Keep Dearborn Clean,’ which was a catch phrase meaning ‘Keep Dearborn White,’ ” according to David Good, a lifelong resident of the city who is the author of ‘‘Orvie: The Dictator of Dearborn,” a biography of Mayor Hubbard.

“Out here in Dearborn where some real Ku Klux Klans live. I know Dearborn, you know I’m from Detroit, used to live out there in Easten. And you had to go through Dearborn to get to Easten. Just like riding through Mississippi once you got to Dearborn.” – Malcolm X

Over time the name “Sundown-town” faded, but Sundown Suburbs still exist. A sundown suburb is a discrete way in which Sundown-towns live today when large white populations migrate to the suburban part of the city with the express purpose of separating themselves from the minority population. We can see this in our Cicero example.