A Witness to the Experience

My Soul is a Witness: Poetry \ Coming Fall 2020

 

My Soul is a Witness is a title inspired by the Negro Spiritual song, “Witness,” but I did not choose such a title because I think of myself and my people as “Negroes.” I chose such a title because of the powerful messages and influence these songs had on our people as they transitioned from enslavement to freedom. Powerful messages I hope to also convey through my poetry.

There is a great spiritual awakening happening among Black people today as we strive to unlearn the lies they taught us for over 400 years. Whether that is starting and running our own businesses, embracing our natural hair or re-educating our young people on the parts of our history left out of the history books.

And to what am I a witness?

I am a witness to the trials and struggles my people have endured and I am a witness to our power to overcome those struggles. I am a witness also to my own sufferings which I am sure have been experienced by others. In this way, I am a witness to the fight that we all have. And why the fight? It is easy to present an image of healing and wholeness, but I believe it is much more fruitful if people knew of the struggles that got us where we are today.

From a historical perspective, I have not experienced the Middle Passage or enslavement or Jim Crow, but as a descendent of people who did, I am connected to those experiences just as if I had been there with them. In the Black community, we do not say, “when they fought for freedom,” we say, “when we fought for freedom.” The same can be true of the struggles of our own personal lives. If someone says they have been homeless before, I can relate because I have been homeless before too. I am a witness to what that’s like. If someone says they have a family member who is an addict, I can relate. I also have family members who are addicts. The anguish that causes in a family and what it does to that person and their loved ones are not lost to me. I can relate to that. I am a witness to that experience.

I believe epigenetic trauma is real. Epigenetics is the idea that trauma can leave a chemical mark on a person’s genes, which then is passed down to subsequent generations. (C. Benedict, New York Times) This means that a child or grandchild can experience side-effects from the traumatic experience of his/her elders. Since the concept of epigenetics, more and more studies hint to the inheritability of trauma where our own day-to-day health (and perhaps our children too) may have something to do with our inheritance of our parents and grandparents suffering.

One personal example is my own mother’s struggle with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder). Her grandson, my nephew, suffers from asthma badly, though both his parents do not have asthma. Could he have inherited my mother’s affliction to a degree?

Thus, I do not find it far-fetched that Blacks/African Americans could still struggle from the mental and spiritual grief that plagued our forefathers long ago. We are witnesses to this pain on a deeply personal level which makes the Negro Spiritual deeply personal to us. While our ancestors were escaping physical enslavement, I believe we are escaping mental enslavement today.

As it applies to all people from the perspective of suffering and struggle, we all have a fight we are engaged in and when we overcome this fight, we become witnesses to that experience and can help others to overcome those same tribulations.

If trauma can be passed down, then so can healing. My soul is a witness.


Have you read I am Soul yet? Grab it here. My Soul is a Witness is coming this fall.

Tales of African American History Found in DNA

Very interesting article. Check it out:

“The history of African Americans poses special challenges for geneticists. During the slave trade, their ancestors were captured from genetically diverse populations across a portion of West Africa. Adding to the complexity is the fact that living African Americans also may trace some of their ancestry to Europeans and Native Americans.”

Blood Line

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My nephew has my birthmark on his chest. My face has my mother’s nose, and my smile is etched with my father’s teeth. I interact with the world as if on my own. It never occurs to me that I swing my arms like my Aunt. Or that the decisions I make may have already been made before. After all, they say there is nothing new under the sun. I cannot swim. But maybe that’s because the Great Flood has traumatized me, for I can still taste salt water seas on my tongue. Have you ever thought about the make-up of a blood line? The reality that maybe you inherited these ways only to gift them to someone else one day. I smile at the thought. What would a little girl look like with my eyes, my words and my hands on her hips? How do I know my favorite tree in which to rest my exhausted spirit from the soles of the Earth did not bleed with the stench of my ancestors? And have I ever fathomed why Hurricanes take the exact same route as the slave ships? Can it be that suicides still burn like melted ash upon the ocean floor? Its smoke intermingled with the wind as if to intercourse themselves into one before marching out to the beat of Negro Spirituals I could have sworn I just heard on the radio last night. Or maybe that’s just the Harriet in me. Perhaps I may gather a collection of souls in my arms like the wind released of its chains, but only those who are willing to admit that they’re slaves.

Family Tree Chart: Character Development

So last week, in a post called 3 Reasons I am Not a Professional Author, I spoke about how I started using a Family Tree to build my characters. I do this using Microsoft Word which I am learning more and more about each day. Family Trees can also be done in Microsoft Power Point.

What this method helps me to achieve is a greater depth in character development. It helps me to create a background, a foundation if you will, for my characters so that they evolve into real living people and are not just stick men and women with names. By creating a background, I can better design the main character out of the genetics of the people that came before them. In this way, I am not just making people up, but they are coming from an ancestral bloodline of sorts. Your primary characters can actually have a lineage and a family to which they belong to go with the personality your writing gives them.

Over the course of this week, I have put together a sample Family Tree and a few steps to help you to get started. I thought I would be able to accomplish this over the weekend but quickly discovered it was a lot more work than I remembered. To make this as simple as possible I will give you the steps as to do this the easiest way possible (which is not exactly how I put mine together but it works). Please understand that this is just a sample and that you can go much deeper than what is presented.  To save time, I only scratched the surface here:

Step #1: WRITE

So if you read the previous post to which I mentioned this method, you know that I don’t use a timeline when I write. I start by writing the story as it comes to me. You can use this method either way. It is however, a good idea to start writing first because the juices start to flow and you have an idea of the characters you can start adding to the chart. Once I’ve written a few pages and I have an idea of the characters, I can then proceed to build on their lives by way of the timeline. All of this is simultaneously done as I’m writing so the timeline is not completely finished in one sitting. I may get to a point in the book where I want to switch some things around or change some names. In simplest form, I’m writing the story and using the family tree to organize my characters as I move along the process. The chart also helps me to sit back and take a full view of everyone even after the book is finished, to study the characters, and to recall names quickly. It’s easier for me to look at my chart instead of rely on memory or scan the document, to recall an important feature so as not to create inconsistencies when I’m writing. I know it seems like a lot and some of you are probably asking yourself, “Shouldn’t I just write so that the emotion and descriptive language  makes the characters realistic?” Of course. The chart does not replace writing in personality and all of that good stuff, it just helps with names and family history.

Step #2: OPEN MICROSOFT WORD

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Step #3: GO TO THE INSERT TAB

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Step #4: CLICK ON SMART ART (it is between Shapes and Chart in Microsoft 2007 & 2010)

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Step #5: When you get into Smart Art, CLICK ON THE HIERARCHY CHART and choose a chart

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Step #6: Start building, adding names and traits or whatever it is you want to add

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Remember that this is not a normal family tree. You don’t have to just add names but in this chart you will also add other important things about the character, such as height, weight, hair and eye color, etc.

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My Chart

OK so I hope that you can see this well. This is my chart which I created using a slightly different design than the Smart Art. I customized it and created my own boxes. I saved it as an image file and then used Microsoft Publisher to crop out the white spaces that come from Word.

In my chart, we see that Stella is named after her great grandmother Stella Mae.

When Blacks stepped off the slave ships and into the shoes of their new lives, their ancestral names were stripped away. After chattel slavery ended, one of the first signs of freedom was for slaves to change their names. Having started with just a first name, they wore the last names of their masters, in which the majority of them continued to wear after emancipation. Others altered their last names slightly after freedom to disassociate from their masters.  Another percentage went far as to just make up a last name, as in Booker T Washington’s case. According to his Autobiography, “Up From Slavery”,  Booker noticed while in class that many of the students had two names. So when the teacher called for his name he calmly announced “Booker Washington” so as to fit in. Later, he found out that his mother had named him “Booker Taliaferro”. And just like that he became Booker T. Washington:

“By the time the occasion came for the enrolling of my name, an idea occurred to me which I thought would make me equal to the situation; and so, when the teacher asked me what my full name was, I calmly told him “Booker Washington”, as if I had been called by that name all my life; and by that name I have since been called.”- Up From Slavery, Page 17, Boyhood Days

Instead of take on the last name Saddler, the first Stella decides to take the last part of her first name, Mae, and change it into May. Her family would then go on to be known as the May’s.

Interpretation of Chart:

  • Deborah was a slave on Paul Saddlers Plantation. They produce a daughter who Deborah names Stella Mae.
  • Stella Mae and John produce a son who Stella names Solomon Curtis. According to the chart, he inherits his father’s green eyes and black hair but this is an error on my part. His eyes are actually Brown like his mothers, but he inherits his father’s jet black hair.
  • Solomon goes on to have four girls: Deborah, Rebecca, Judith, and Sara.
  • Judith, the middle daughter, goes on to give birth to a daughter who she names Stella, after her grandmother.
  • We see that Judith inherits her green eyes from her father Solomon and her grandfather John. For the sake of space I did not include Judith’s mother in the sample chart; she is white.
  • Stella inherits her eye and hair color from her great great grandfather Paul. Stella’s father is also not included in the chart; he is black.

As genetics would have it, Stella is easily capable of easing on pass the color line by inheriting more external European features than African American.

3 Reasons I am Not a Professional Author

(The post where I originally mentioned this in case you missed it)

see also

Word to the Wise

Encoded

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Certain memories won’t let you forget
they rush before the forefront of your mind
like messages that escaped the past
only to cement themselves inside you
climb their way through blood vessels
encoded experiences written in our DNA
for thoughts do not disappear
do not evaporate from the mind
only to fall short in the abyss of nothingness
they’re instead a strand of silent data
entwined within the past and the present that is you
and sometimes, the future too
encoded memories
they erupt old wounds like falling planes
in smoke filled clouds
a twin tower sacrifice for your humility
a taste of truth for our memories
a thorn in the side
encoded data
so we never forget what falling feels like.

Nostalgia

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I didn’t always drink coffee, but the first cup was so delicious, made with the expertise of a veteran coffee drinker some years back, that I incorporated caffeine into my daily schedule and like a feign sought to mimic it’s deliciousness. But this morning, as I poured the warm goodness and integrated it with Carmel Vanilla Cream, something unexpected happened. Ok so yes I was thinking about Blogging but not that. I was, however, brought back to those early days. Suddenly, I tasted of the past and images hurried to my thoughts like a wave of epiphany. With each sip it is as if I tasted of conversation and laughed at jokes once long faded away in memory. It reminded me of an article I read last week about scientist finally admitting that memory is stored in the DNA, and I do believe it’s true. Even if we cannot remember a moment, I believe we still live it in some way. Maybe we mimic the actions of what we can neither speak nor recall. Maybe something makes us laugh and we cannot explain why. Or perhaps there was an experience so traumatic that it disintegrated into our very skin, but is no longer accessible through the mind. Why is it that when we recall the past we include ourselves even if we had not lived it? “We were slaves” I say of my history, though I have never been anyone’s property and neither have I picked of anyone’s cotton. Could it be that this experience was genetically passed on to me? Indeed, I believe so. For who am I to be so arrogant as to believe I inherited my mother’s nose and not my ancestors ways? Their thoughts? Their promises?

Memory, like water it is an interesting thing. A substance that we use daily, that we cannot live without, and that we have even named and yet, we know nothing about it. For what is H2O really? I laugh at the boldness of man to think he has all the answers, and yet the things we use on a daily basis is still foreign to us. So, Nostalgia, the bringing forth of memory we either despise or long to experience again, perhaps it is much deeper than we think, and yet closer too.

Hair and the Nervous System

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I don’t know much about hair (actually, I know very little). But in 2009 I was allotted the opportunity to produce a documentary on behalf of my organization called I am NOT my Hair: Perms, Weaves, and Hot Combs. Since then, I’ve done more and more research on hair (especially after going natural the same year) and have been able to speak with sisters from all over the U.S. about their hair journey and to offer the DVD as an opportunity to cause a change in their hair health. As a result, it has become one of the most famous pieces I’ve had the chance to be a part of.

I still do not consider myself an expert on hair and I warn that I can offer very little advice in hair maintenance, however the little I do know I am willing to share. Today’s article offers a few tips to help better understand this stuff on top our head called hair. As is my custom, I’ll split it into 3 separate posts:

 
– Hair and the Nervous System – 9/11/14
– Why Perms are Afraid of Water – 9/12/14
– Why Natural hair is dehydrated – 9/13/14

Hair and the Nervous System

Firstly, let us understand the basics: Hair and the Nervous System

Receptors in human skin
I happen to live in the country, and there are a lot of bugs around our home. So sometimes I can pick up the sounds of them before they get too close because it almost sounds like there are wasps in my hair! I’m not joking, and it’s quite annoying actually, but it’s true. I’ve been natural and dred loc’d for 5 years and on the left side of my head, the hair on that side can pick up the sounds of those tiny irritating bugs. That’s because Hair is a genetic part of you; it is a hereditary extension of yourself, connected to your nervous system and actually acts as a kind of antennae.

“Hair is an extension of the nervous system, it can be correctly seen as exteriorized nerves, a type of highly-evolved ‘feelers’ or ‘antennae’ that transmit vast amounts of important information to the brainstem, the limbic system, and the neocortex. When hair is cut, receiving and sending transmissions to and from the environment are greatly hampered. This results in ‘numbing-out’.”
–  http://banoosh.com/blog/2013/07/12/hair-is-an-extension-of-the-nervous-system-why-indians-keep-their-hair-long/

Young woman with hand on head
While it’s fun to play around with our hair and to try out different styles, hair is not some miscellaneous body part of ours (which makes you think more about the role of the hair dresser). But hair and hair health are just as important as other bodily functions like skin, and nails. It’s not about the style of the hair making one more or less righteous (this is not a natural vs relaxed debate), but this is more so about hair health. How to treat our hair and what combination of hair products are more or less beneficial because balance is everything. Have you ever sat down to ponder why a piece of hair can identify who you are? Why witches use strips of hair to perform witchcraft? Or why the biblical Samson lost all of his power by letting Delilah cut off all his hair? That’s because your hair is part of you and always has been. The ancient and native peoples all knew about this link between long hair, health and spirituality. They never cut their hair voluntarily. Short hair was a universal sign of slavery, shame, or defeat; a loss of power and identity. Not that if you have short hair your a bad person or anything, but concerning how important hair has always been, people would only cut their hair in the event of captivity, for mourning purposes, or for hygiene. It is a way of blocking out the energies of the world. It is only in modern times that both men and women cut their hair short on a regular basis, changing the lengths according to trends.