Today is a special edition of Introduce Yourself. Please help me to welcome Ashton Smith to The PBS Blog!
Ashton is an amazing young woman from Fort Worth, Texas, with a powerful story. She’s a world-medal award-winning swimmer, author, and corporate speaker. She is legally blind in one eye and has difficulty seeing out of the other, but she has not let this stop her from pursuing her athletic endeavors. Smith does not only swim but has been involved in bocce, track and field, basketball, and flag football. She has won gold medals and traveled the world.
However, Ashton’s journey has not been without trial.
According to the rules of the Special Olympics, they ban their athletes from making income. This left Ashton struggling to find a way to support herself even as she was competing. While headed to the World Games in Dubai, Smith struggled financially and fell into homelessness.
“I think it becomes unfair and harsh when members are prevented from earning a livelihood off of their own efforts. I think it’s unfair that a team member should have to be reduced to begging for money on the side of the road, which I had to do while being an athlete in the organization. I was required to raise money for the organization, yet when I started a GoFundMe, I was told to take it down. I was asked to stop asking the public for money.”
Without a home, Smith bounced around from place to place and depended on friends for help. When her grandmother died, she lost her only form of support.
“It was very hard, very difficult, and very tough because you didn’t know where your next meal would come from or certain things you wouldn’t know.”
Today, Ashton is committed to sharing her story to raise awareness about the unfair treatment she received as a disabled person.
“I find it odd that television networks aired my story about being homeless and nearly destitute, yet I couldn’t benefit from the content. They used it to make money, yet I was never given a dime. I’ve never gotten paid by ESPN or the organization but they used my story to make millions.”
Ashton’s grandmother and sister helped her financially. However, both have passed on, making getting around as a visually impaired person even more challenging.
Smith’s fight continues as she seeks to spread the word about her newfound purpose of being a voice for the voiceless. She achieves this through public speaking and her motivational memoir, which delves deep into her story and journey.
“I have decided to speak up and be an advocate for the disadvantaged.”
Please help me extend a warm welcome to Monique Johnson.
Welcome to the PBS Blog!
What is your name and where are you from?
I am Monique R Johnson, Los Angeles, CA born and raised, but moved to Fort Worth, Texas in 2019.
Nice. Cali to Texas is a big transition. What inspired the move?
I considered Texas several years prior. A couple of people I grew up with made the move over 15 years ago. It was when I started dating a guy I worked with who, later took a job in Texas, that I reconsidered.
What would your perfect writing / reading room look like?
My perfect writing and reading room would look like a university library.
Nicee! I’m loving it already.
I’d have a writing desk with the perfect desk lamp for late-night writing. I’d have a bookcase with books from various genres: motivation, Christian spiritual, financial, self-help, poetry, and a few children’s books for my grands. I would have a leather recliner and a tall, full bird of paradise plant in the corner near the window.
What is the most annoying habit that you have?
Correcting grammar. It gets on everyone’s nerves.
So YOU the grammar police!
If you could do anything else, what job do you think you’d be really good at?
Lawyer. I love to make my point.
Lol. Any siblings Monique?
Three biological brothers, one step-brother, and three step-sisters.
If you had unlimited funds to build a house that you would live in for the rest of your life, what would the finished house be like?
Mansion, with an east and west wing, two kitchens, game room, media room, living room, enclosed patio, herb and vegetable garden on one side of the back yard, a dog run in the other, and an in-ground swimming pool in the center. The house would have a balcony with an amazing view. The bathroom would have a walk-in shower, with a waterfall feature and a sitting area.
Let’s get into writing a bit. What genre do you write in and why?
Mixed Genre of non-fiction with a dramatic approach and a sprinkle of poetry to end each chapter. I love writing this way because it makes it more engaging and easier to explain how people can get unstuck.
Why is writing important to you?
I write for my family and generations to come so that they will know how I made it through the toughest times in my life. I want readers of my work, be it my poetry, my magazine articles, or my novel, to know that an everyday person like themselves can get through whatever they are dealing with if they decide to believe that they can.
When did you publish your first book?
My first Anthology was published December 2021. My first memoir was published June 30, 2022. It was exciting and challenging for me. I learned that publishing is not the hard part, it’s the promotion and marketing that’s hard for me.
I get it. So what takes up too much of your time?
Figuring out systems for my business and now my book journey.
In your book, you talked a lot about how your faith got you through a lot of the pain. Do you consider yourself a religious person?
I am not religious in that I do not believe in all of the rules and traditions that mark religions. I do follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. I believe Christ was a spiritual teacher and healer, but the world was not ready to receive such a reality. Religion nailed him to the cross.
If you had one superpower that could change the world, what would it be?
To make everyone love each other with a Godly love.
What does a Godly love look like?
A Godly love looks like a man and woman who puts God first, demonstrates unconditional love, sacrifices for one another, and goes to God in prayer over situations the couple cannot handle in their own strength.
What are your thoughts on race?
We should embrace our differences, and not be opinionated on who is the better of the races. The conflict is in the ignorance of one or the other and the fear.
What do you think of police brutality in the black community?
I am mixed on it. I am a mother of black sons and they express to me that they know how to do the psychological game with the police so, thank God, they’ve not been a victim of it. They have been stopped, even arrested, but never mishandled. How can we do better? I think all of our people who have been victimized, profiled, or targeted by law enforcement should learn to use psychology, or better yet wisdom instead of responding with emotions. That is not helping during intense situations.
How would one use the study of the mind to avoid police brutality? Can you give some examples of how getting overly emotional could worsen already intense situations?
For example, if an officer is approaching a black man on a routine traffic stop, or suspicious activity, the black man should not react in a defensive, or in any way that can be taken as uncooperative, or threatening. Instead, he should be compliant, ask what the stop is for, ask if he is being put under arrest, and get the officers names. A calm, unemotional state of mind will put the officer a little more at ease, thus de-escalating the situation.
You KNOW I got more questions, chile. But, let’s move on.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Life is not always pretty. We all experience hardship every now and again.
What is your best advice for reducing stress?
Get enough word in you to have something to meditate on when you are getting overwhelmed. Walk, bike ride, or spend time doing dedicated workouts. Eat healthy.
In your own words, what is humility?
Maintaining a grateful attitude, not thinking you deserve all the accolades, but are willing to share the spotlight. Gracious in your acceptance of gifts, complements, and is not easily offended.
What is love?
God. It is receiving others right where they are without judgement. Accepting the good and the bad. Tolerance. Caring about your fellow human. Forgiving.
Thank you, Monique, for spending this time with us.We enjoyed you!
Monique Johnson is a native Californian who relocated to Texas in pursuit of new opportunities just before the world-wide pandemic and social unrest. She is the former founder and president of a nonprofit after school program she created to help keep teens off of the streets. She brought awareness to the Prison Industrial Complex and how it’s growth was planned based on statistics pulled from the minority population. These stats have been improperly used to build more prisons, thus keeping this population incarcerated. She mentored youth to keep them from making bad choices that could land them in the unforgiving criminal justice system.
Johnson motivates single mothers, women in general, as well as young men to push through the hard parts of life. She is an experienced trainer, speaker, project manager, and has a gift of leadership as displayed in her professional career and community. Her books and her upcoming workshops are geared toward her goal to help women and men in their business, personal and spiritual development.
Please help me extend a warm welcome to D.L. Heather.
Welcome to the PBS Blog!
What is your name and where are you from?
Hi, my name is Debra, and I was born in Canada, but I live in Detroit now.
Oh, cool. Detroit in the house.Are you employed outside of writing?
No, writing is my life. Before writing books, I was a contributor and columnist for various magazine outlets.
Awesome! What was your childhood dream?
To walk into a bookstore and see my books on the shelves. As a child, all I wanted was to write. I was never without a pen and a notebook.
That’s so cool because I have a similar story. Always had me a notebook or journal.
Let’s talk about writing. Tell us about publishing your first book. What was that like?
My first book, Metamorphosis, was published in 2018. Indescribable – it’s not a word we writers like to admit to. Surely, there is an adjective or simile for every eventuality, and yet here I am using it to describe the feeling of holding my book for the first time. The writing process is a long journey of transformation, from a single idea to months of writing, innumerable coffees, countless revisions. And now it’s a physical thing I can hold in my hands. Like I said – indescribable.
I love how you described that process!
Debra, what takes up too much of your time?
I find building my brand on social media platforms the biggest time-consumer. I’d rather be writing, haha.
For sure. What’s your favorite TV Show? Movie?
My favorite TV show is Sons of Anarchy. Movie, hmm, that’s a tough one, I have many but I would say Training Day is up there at the top of the list.
What’s the most difficult thing about being a writer? The most exciting thing?
The most difficult thing about being a writer is the fact that everyone in your life thinks whatever you’re writing is about them (sometimes they’re right but not always). That’s the truth–and as the artist, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Be prepared–before you’ve even finished the story, even, you can see it in their eyes that they are full of wonder. It’s about them, isn’t it. Yes! It is! It has to be! There’s no way it’s not!
The most exciting thing about being a writer to me is it doesn’t matter if it’s a novel, poem, or a journal entry, writing helps let the demons out. We have to deal with complex emotions and a good way to understand them (in a healthy way) is to have a creative outlet—like, writing, music, or art. Writing is great because you can literally put down on paper how you feel. It’s cathartic at the time, and in my experience, later on when you read it. It’s a reminder of how you felt and what you thought at a point in time and how you dealt with it.
What genre do you write in, why?
Poetry and nonfiction. I’ve used my writing not just for my personal creative gain but in the hopes that maybe I could write something someday that would help people get through tough times. Maybe I could write something that would make a difference in another person’s life.
I knew you were a poet by how you answered that one question!
In your own words, what is love?
To me, love is just a word and one I don’t use that freely. Because love is scary, it’s basically giving someone a map of all your flaws and imperfections and putting faith in them to not abuse that power. And that can be so beautiful, but it can also be brutal! Love can make you do the hardest thing a human could ever do, be vulnerable.
That is a very interesting way of putting it.
Why is writing important to you?
Writing keeps me whole. Writing keeps me sane. I’m not that great at expressing myself in person. Still, when I write, I feel like I can get all of my ideas down without interruption, without influence from someone’s body language, without fear of what someone will think of me if I stumble over my words while I’m forming a thought (which happens more than I would like to admit). Writing has always been my outlet. My writing is so closely linked to my personal experiences, regardless of what it is that I’m writing. It’s a way for me to process things and understand myself. It’s a way for me to escape the restrictions of my own life (such as grief, heartbreak, and childhood trauma). It allows me to feel free again.
Thank you, Debra, for spending this time with us.We enjoyed you!
D.L. Heather is the pen name for poet, writer, and former music journalist Debra Heather. She has a B.A. in English and is the author of the inspirational poetry collections Life Interrupted and Metamorphosis.
Writing came into her life in her teens through therapy and the exploration of healing through journaling. Her writing is motivated by her experiences with childhood trauma, love, loss, healing, heartbreak, and self-discovery.
She prefers to let her work speak for itself, a private person by nature, in the way poetry allows her to. She hopes to inspire others and reinforce the fact that you are not alone.
When she isn’t writing in her studio, she enjoys traveling, reading, movies and gardening. Her book, Petals of Healing, will be available in December 2021.
I am not at all surprised I am enjoying Cicely Tyson’s memoir, Just as I am. While I am not an actor,* I try to learn as much as I can from others. Even if it’s reading a book, I want to know what brought us together and what purpose I might piece together that we are intended to serve to each other.
I have had this post sitting in my drafts since the beginning of May. It wasn’t until I read this chapter last night I could finish it and feel comfortable publishing it.
In Chapter Ten, Center Stage, Miss Cicely is recounting her training with Vinnette Carroll, playwright, actress, theater director, and the first black woman to direct on Broadway, with her 1972 production of the musical Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope.
In discussing art, Miss Cicely (I like saying that) explains in just a few short sentences everything I want to convey in this post.
“Vinnette taught me to learn technique and then to forget it–and to resurrect it only if it served my portrayal. Technique is important, to the extent that it is undergirded by emotion. I once knew an actress who was a brilliant technician, but her portrayal fell flat. She could create a moment and bring it to fruition, yet it was apparent she wasn’t feeling anything, and as a result, neither was her audience.”
Cicely Tyson, Just as I am, Chapter Ten, pg. 156-57
“Technique is important, to the extent that it is undergirded by emotion.”
I never consider myself an expert on anything. I will say what I have come to know in my experience, both as a writer and listener of poetry, is to watch out for intellect. By intellect, I mean the need to be so fancy you confuse the reader. It is, in my opinion, similar to using technique and forgetting emotion.
That is why I often feel that intellect, if not used in balance with emotion, passion, and heart, is the enemy of sound poetry.
“Watch out for intellect, because it knows so much it knows nothing and leaves you hanging upside down, mouthing knowledge as your heart falls out of your mouth.”
I have read poetry so over my head I could not possibly relate to it. Metaphors and similes were so puzzling I am not even sure Maya Angelou could decipher what the poet meant if she were alive. I once read a poem that ended with the author saying he or she had eaten a bird. I do not know who or what the bird symbolized. All I know is a bird at the beginning that ended up eaten by the end of the poem.
I did feel sorry for the bird to this poet’s credit, so I was not without emotion completely. It is not lost on me that readers can discover their own meanings and interpretations of poems, which is part of the fun. We learn what the author intended for the poem to communicate and what we got from it based on our personal experiences and feelings. I love hearing how a poem I’ve written resonated with readers, even if what they got from it was different from what I thought as I wrote it.
But, I like to think reading and writing is a partnership. While the first person our writing serves is ourselves, I would hope there is something to be gained by the reader too. I don’t want to get so wrapped up in the beauty of language that there is no substance, just pretty words. I expressed this in the poem Give Me Life.
To me, this would be similar to the woman Tyson references, who was a brilliant technician when acting but could not move her audience.
If you know anything about me by now, you know I am a Black Movie Buff. It’s like Justice said in Poetic Justice about having something deep to say, about having a voice.
Lucky: “What you write about in that notebook?”
Justice: “That’s my poetry.”
Lucky: “You trying to say my cousin’s shit ain’t poetry?”
Justice: “It ain’t if he ain’t got nothing deep to say. Gotta have a voice. A perspective.”
Intellect can be a strength or it can be a weakness.
If there is an easier way to say something, write it plainly, and it will reveal its own depth. I like to write the poem as it comes to me and then come back later to dress it up. Ain’t nothing wrong with a little icing once you have the cake.
Here is another quote I picked up from the quote of the day from author and editor Shayla Raquel’s newsletter, which I also just read yesterday.
“Your writing voice is the deepest possible reflection of who you are. The job of your voice is not to seduce or flatter or make well-shaped sentences. In your voice, your readers should be able to hear the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul.”
— Meg Rosof
*I said at the beginning of this post I was not an actor. I should say I am not a professional actor, as I do have some experience with it. In High School, I was part of a special program to write and perform plays. I cannot remember the program’s name or what the aim was, but this was my first official summer job. I did this for the summer of my Sophomore and Junior year, taking an official drama class my senior year, where I would also perform my poetry live for the first time as a monologue. In 2015, I was featured in a stage play at the DuSable Museum.
But as I reflect, fun as it was, I prefer to write the screenplay. Ya’ll can do the acting.
Have you entered this year’s poetry contest? I hope I gave you some inspiration! Take your time but keep your eyes on the clock. June will be here before you know it.
As I scrolled through my LinkedIn page (and I am rarely on LinkedIn), I came across this post and was surprised to learn of Sue Vincent’s passing.
I know Sue from her promotional posts for authors and her generosity in opening up her space to give others time to shine. I’ve been featured on her blog a few times, and each time that we emailed, she was always welcoming to have me.
I feel sadness about Sue because I have not been as immersed in the blogging community as I used to be. My schedule is crazy these days, and I have not had the time to dedicate myself to my own blog, much less engage with others. On searching her name, I found tons of posts dedicated to her and posts she wrote about her illness. I am so very sorry for missing it all.
I also want to note that Sue was a poet, and with it being National Poetry Month, I dedicate this post to her honor.
As per the title of this post, I want to remind us to give people their flowers while they live.
If there is someone you appreciate or someone you love, or someone who has added value to your life in any way, I encourage you to make it known to them now.
Why not now?
Last June 2020 was the last time I saw my mother alive. I had taken a quick trip to Chicago to celebrate the life of another person I knew who had passed and stopped by my mom’s place. I was literally only passing through. My husband had to make a run, so I ended up staying with my mother for longer than I had anticipated.
At the time, I was irritated Moshe was taking so long to come back. I did not see how much of a blessing it was he took this run.
Before I left, I put a necklace on her neck that I had meant to ship but never got the chance to. As I snapped it on her, I kissed her cheek and left. This wasn’t out of the ordinary. It is something I did all the time, kiss her cheek and tell her I loved her. The difference this time is I didn’t know this would be the last time I would do it, as she would pass on in September.
I have been away from home since 2009, when we moved to Louisiana. I now live in Georgia, but most of my family still lives in Chicago. That said, I didn’t see my mom daily because we did not live in the same city. If I had not come to Chicago that June, the last memory I would have of her would have been December of 2019 when we celebrated her 60th, and unknown to us, her last birthday.
We never know when will be the last time we see or speak to someone, but we still take it for granted. We still treat each other like every day is promised. We still love people more in death than we do in life. We see this every time a celebrity passes.
I hope that one day this will change.
I hope that one day we will live with such immense gratitude that hindsight is no longer 20/20 because we will see things clearly at the moment.