You are fourteen, and despite the childish laughter— the one smoother than the fresh coat of love on a baby’s skin— your mothers must warn you that certain skin tones won’t allow you to flash open innocence.
You are not allowed to purchase candy, tell jokes, or ring the wrong doorbell.
Certain histories won’t let you forget the present or permit childhood to take advantage of your fingertips.
Responsibilities follow you home in warm booties, blankets, and prophecies. If you had known that your existence would give birth to a movement, long before your feet hit the ground. Before your mother’s pelvis danced against your father’s, and his kiss brushed upon her skin…
Did they tell you that you were born for this?
Did they tell you about the cries of Israel when they reached into the heavens like hands just as heavy as your parent’s hearts, knocking against the doors of heaven because too many of their prayers ended in question marks?
Did they tell you that you were destined for this?
That you had the freedom movement stamped to your backside like a receipt back to the soil.
Like your fathers had to spit their seed into a melody, an Amazing Grace and Birmingham Sunday, carving its lyrics and your names into the history books of our yet unborn.
And while you rest they march scripture on the bed of your misunderstood self.
Your written content your voice copy blog posts texts, captions the way you capture feeling on the page contextualize thought empower us through emotion breathe life into the human experience remind us what it feels like to live to remember minister to our memory and most sacred truths the way you poet your words, spoken or written is, power.
A historical document your grandchildren will one day cherish resist the urge to withhold words hold them like you once held your babies precious and true their bodies snug in the crook of your arm and the warmth of your chest Wrap your arms around this text: Your intellectual scholarship has merit.
Let it be a legacy for the next generation Gift them this birthright. So we may have a right to a better future. Let no one censor you into silence.
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.