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

Slavery-TodayMy 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. They say there is nothing new under the sun. I cannot swim. But maybe that’s because the Great Flood has traumatized me. Can I still taste salt water seas on my tongue? Have you ever thought about the make-up of a blood line?

The possibility 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 did not bleed with the stench of my ancestors? And have I ever fathomed why Hurricanes take the same route as the slave ships? Can it be that bodies still burn like melted ash upon the ocean floor? Its smoke mixed with the wind before marching out to the beat of Negro Spirituals I could have sworn I heard on the radio last night. Or maybe that’s just the Harriet in me. Perhaps I may gather poetry in my arms like the wind released of its chains. Is it possible that words can free those who do not know that they are 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 #4: CLICK ON SMART ART (it is between Shapes and Chart in Microsoft 2007 & 2010)


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


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


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.

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



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.



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

Photo by Matheus Natan

The year 2009 was big for me. I moved away from home, went natural, and advocated for it by producing a documentary after watching Chri Rock’s Good Hair. I set out to do my own research and interview my own people to find out the root cause of all this hair talk. After all, if I was to maintain my natural hair, I had better know why.

Since the release of “I am NOT My Hair: Perms, Weaves, and Hot Combs,” I’ve done more and more research, and I 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.

Today’s article offers a few tips to help better understand this stuff on top of our heads called hair. As is my custom, I’ll split it into three 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

I live in the country, and there are a lot of bugs around our home. Sometimes I can pick up their sounds before they get too close because it almost sounds like there are wasps in my hair! I have been natural for five years now, 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 hereditary extension of yourself, is connected to your nervous system, and acts as 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/

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

While it’s fun to play around with our hair and to try different styles, hair is not some miscellaneous body part of ours, which makes us think deeply about the role of the hairdresser.

Hair and hair health is 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 is more or less beneficial.

Have you ever sat down to ponder why a piece of hair can identify who you are? Why do 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 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, defeat, and a loss of power and identity. You are not a bad person for cutting your hair or wearing a short style. This is only to demonstrate how seriously people have always looked at hair. Many would only cut their hair in the event of captivity, for mourning purposes, or hygiene. It was seen as a way of blocking out the energies of the world.