If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree

When I was a teenager, my cousins joked that I had discovered the cure for AIDS. It was their way of saying I was smart because I read a lot.

I even overheard my mother telling my aunt I was special. I got offended because I thought she meant special as in slow.

That’s because when I was a kid, I thought I was stupid.

In grammar school, I was a terrible student. I got straight Fs in the early years. And when we had to take the IOWA Test, I started to get held back. I can remember going to summer school as early as third grade, and I failed sixth grade twice. I failed seventh grade too, but someone had mercy on me enough to add my name to the eighth-grade roster, and that is how I entered the eighth grade.

I honestly cannot tell you what happened. I never learned the details. As far as I was concerned, it was a miracle.

Once in the eighth grade, they routinely removed me from class to go with the Special Ed teacher. My specific area of difficulty was math.

Whenever that teacher came to the door, all five of us would get up and walk out, and everyone knew what for. It was embarrassing, and I felt ashamed.

If I was so terrible at school, how did I graduate with honors with an armful of Creative Writing awards? And how did I end up in ILCA?

ILCA is short for International Language Career Academy. It was a program at my high school where students had to take four years of language instead of two, and all their courses were advanced except for the electives.

By my junior year of High School, I was not only enrolled in all honors classes, but I was also taking courses at Robert Morris College in downtown Chicago.

I would go to school during the day and then hop on the Green Line and go to college at night.

At the time, I was a member of the UMOJA Spoken Word Poetry club, trying out for track, and the only member of the yearbook team.

My schedule was crazy.

I was also on the drama team, where we wrote and performed plays at school assemblies.

At one of these plays, I recited my poem, “Black Beauty.” It was the first time I had ever shared my poetry with the public.

But let me back up just a bit.

I never explained how I went from Special Ed for math to taking advanced math classes…and passing.

Writing.

My eighth-grade teacher discovered I knew how to write, so they built my assignments around writing.

I excelled.

I excelled so much that I passed math, graduated with honors, and was placed in an advanced High School Program.

There’s an old saying, usually attributed to Einstein, that goes something like:

I was this fish. I used to think I was stupid.

Something in my brain just did not click. I didn’t even learn to ride a bike until I was nine years old.

At the time, The Robert Taylor Projects were considered the poorest urban community in the United States, second only to Cabrini Green. We did not ride bikes. We made tents out of dirty bedsheets, seesaws out of bed railings, and rollercoasters out of shopping carts.

Ain’t nobody have money for bikes.

And even though I’m a full adult now, I still get anxious about math and count slower than most.

People think I’m book smart, but the truth is it wasn’t until I focused on what I was good at (my purpose) that I started to do well.

It was never about being smart, but I was also not stupid. I just needed to find what worked for me, even if that meant I had to work harder than others.

The Point

Passion is connected to purpose. Those things you love to do (with or without payment), has a lot to do with what you are called to do.

Some of you are struggling with something, and it’s not because you are stupid or slow or incapable.

It could just be because you are a fish, trying to climb trees because that’s what everyone else is doing.

Find you some water.


I am Soul is 99cents through February. If you have read this book, be sure to leave an honest review on Amazon!

Dear Black Entrepreneur: You Are Enough

I was sitting here drafting a Black History Fun Fact about the first black-owned TV and radio stations but as I read I noticed a disturbing trend. A trend we can still see present today. To start, I was researching WGPR-TV, first black-owned television station in the U.S. and W.E.R.D., first black-owned radio station in the U.S. WGPR-TV was run and operated in Detroit and W.E.R.D. was based in Atlanta. We’ll go deeper into their history in a separate post but both stations became a platform for black artists, from Jazz and Blues musicians to Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. using it to broadcast his sermons and later, Civil Rights announcements. There are two things I noticed associated with each of these companies as the inspiration to today’s post:

  • Jesse Blayton, founder of W.E.R.D., also taught accounting at Atlanta University and tried encouraging young black people to enter the field. He was unsuccessful because the students knew that no white-owned accounting firms would hire them and Blayton’s, the only black-owned firm in the South, was small and had few openings.

 

  • WGPR-TV was successful from my perspective but because it failed to reach a wider audience, it was eventually sold to CBS. WGPR-TV ran from 1975 to 1995 under its black leadership.

With, black-owned businesses, I notice a disturbing mindset among many of my people in the African-American community that success is synonymous with white support and that, without it, we aren’t as successful as we could be. Society has deceived many of us into thinking unless they have included us in the mainstream public eye, we are unsuccessful. I compare it to publishing in the sense that Traditional Publishing is still seen as a more successful route than Independent Publishing. It is still seen as a sign of prosperity to be signed to a publisher than to be your own publisher through the Self-publishing route because of the exposure. Although many Self-Publisher’s are making far more money, unless the Self-Publisher can look like a celebrity, he or she has not made it (whatever that means). This is flawed thinking and causes many to chase the temporary pleasures of money and fame over integrity.

The Oscars is a great example of this and for the record, I admire Spike Lee and Regina King most especially. The talent comprised in these two people is beyond words. However, the black community’s reaction to their Oscar win is a great example of how we do not often see ourselves as being enough. Spike Lee and Regina King are and have always been two powerful artists. What Spike Lee has done with Crooklyn, Four Little Girls, Mo Beta Blues, Do the Right Thing, He Got Game, Malcolm X and more is nothing short of genius work. That Regina King can simultaneously bring to life two characters in Huey and Riley Freeman is nothing short of genius work. Not only did she capture the personas of two little boys but two little black boys. Whether that is Poetic Justice, Boyz N the Hood, Friday, Enemy of the State or Down to Earth, King’s roles are always down to earth. She’s got this skill that allows her to be relatable in any role. She‘s hilarious and you feel she can easily be your sister.

My point here is this: Lee and King did not need to win Oscars for me to recognize their brilliance. Yet, as a community, we champion this as the official ceremony to which we have received a piece of the pie. We have a track record of doing this, in which we do not see ourselves as successful except that we are integrated into mainstream societies expectations of what that success is supposed to look like. Angela Basset does not need an Oscar to be great.

There is nothing wrong with receiving support across all nationalities and nations of people. However, it is important for the black entrepreneur to know and understand that to be young, gifted, and black is also a success by itself and on its own terms.

Poet Spotlight: Nia Elise |Yecheilyah’s 2nd Annual Poetry Contest 2018

This week we are spotlighting the winners of the 2nd Annual Poetry Contest! Today, you’ll get to meet the poets and read their poems. Let’s dive right in with our 3rd Place winner.

INTRODUCING NIA ELISE

Nia Elise is a 41-year-old single mom of two beautiful girls. She currently resides in Covington, Ga after relocating from her hometown of Silver Spring, MD. She is currently a 4th-grade teacher and has spent 19 years working in education. Her love of poetry began in elementary school when she received a signed copy of “Honey, I love” by Eloise Greenfield. She began writing her own poetry in middle school. After her divorce, she took to the stage and began doing spoken word. She is currently working on her first book of poetry and vignettes titled “Lessons on Love.” Be on the lookout for her book, and read more of her poetry by following @PoeticallyPurposed and on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Welcome Nia! So nice to meet you beautiful. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired your poem, Self-Love?

Nia: Upon deciding that I would enter the poetry contest, I opened an episode of Red Table Talk where Jada Pinkett Smith discussed her views on self-love. I began thinking about what that meant to me, and more importantly my struggles with learning to love myself, and how I want my daughters to view themselves differently than I did growing up. That was my inspiration to write “Self-Love” for this contest.

I love it. It’s a powerful poem. “The unattainable plight of a woman” was a beautiful way to open and sum up the piece. A few lines caught our attention:

“to break down the expectation into bits she can eat.
And she swallows
her pride, tears, fears, and the expectations of her peers
And spits them back out at her baby girls feet.”

Tell us about those lines.

Nia: Society has placed these expectations on women of what we should look like; Our size, the clothing we wear, how we wear our hair, the way we walk and talk, how we should or should not cater to a man, or how we should mother our children. It’s a lot to take in, or rather to “Swallow”. Every time you open a social media page, there is a meme about what you should or should not be doing to meet these expectations. Through my journey of learning to love myself, I have had to set them aside and understand that I can take in what I think is best for me, and just throw the rest away. I want my daughters to understand this same thing. They do not need to meet the expectations of the world, but only the expectations they have set for themselves.

Well said.

Now let’s get into this poem!

 

Self Love Copyright© Nia Elise

3rd Place

The unattainable plight of a woman
The mask she carries is not her own
Under it
Lies
Expectation
Made into self-deprecation
Caused by
Society, men, magazines and molds.
In her youth she may have had the physicality
but not the mentality
to sustain what they thought she should be.
After birth
she struggles with the physicality
but now owns a mentality
to break down the expectation into bits she can eat.
And she swallows
her pride, tears, fears, and the expectations of her peers
And spits them back out at her baby girls feet.
She tells her
these folks’ expectations are not for you to meet
They are for you to beat
They will gnaw at your mind
Pull on your spirit
And you need to push it aside baby girl,
Don’t hear it
Be the best version of you
That is more than just the view
That is the drive to be alive and to continue to push through
That is the understanding that
God’s got you
That is the realization that
you are beautiful no matter what
That your beauty is more than your face and your strut
That what matters
is in your heart and mind
That it’s more important to be gentle and kind
Especially since we are all going through
The seemingly unattainable plight of learning to love YOU.

 

Be Sure to Follow Nia Online!

IG: @poeticallypurposed

@embodyingpurpose


Stand by for our 2nd Runner-Up.

Nailah Shami is up tomorrow!

Yecheilyah’s First Annual Poetry Contest – Grand Prize Winner!

Hey Guys!

I am honored to introduce to you our Grand Prize Winner of my first poetry contest!

First, a special thank you to Colleen and Lisa for helping me to put this together. With my schedule, I could not have done it without you two! Family, please go ahead and follow their blogs. You WON’T be disappointed!

Follow Lisa Here

Follow Colleen Here

Next, I would like to thank everyone who entered as well as those of you who shared this contest. It is not easy to “stand” up here and do something like this so thank you for your support.

Drumm Rollll…

Congratulations to Merril D. Smith for her poem “Zora Neale Hurston.”

Not only did it touch on our theme, but it embodied so much of Zora that I felt like if I didn’t know who she was before, I did now. Here’s what Colleen had to say:

“The author captured the essence of Zora and her strength to fight for the rights of African American women as if she was able to channel her bright spirit through the written word. Splendid imagery and descriptions. When I close my eyes, I can see Zora in all her glory!”

My favorite lines are:

“…her soul crawls out

from its hiding place

time and distance cannot shrink

her words…” – Colleen Chesebro

Whoop! Merril, here’s what you’ve won!

  • Amazon Giftcard
  • Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (hardcover)
  • From When I was a Black Girl by Yecheilyah Ysrayl (paperback)
  • And Still, I Rise by Maya Angelou (paperback)
  • Your Poem on this Blog
  • Social Media Support

Please tell us a little bit about yourself:

Author Photo: Merril D. Smith.

MDS: Thank you so much, Yecheilyah Ysrayl, Colleen Chesebro, and Lisa W. Tetting! I am honored to have been selected as the Grand Prize Winner for this poetry contest.

My name is Merril D. Smith. I live in National Park, NJ, which is a small borough right across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. I’m an independent scholar with a Ph.D. in American history, but my blog is mostly a poetry blog. Poetry is my creative outlet, though it is something I’ve come to only within the past few years. Perhaps I needed some life experience and time to reflect, but now my muse says, “write poetry.”

Do you have any poetry collections out Merril?

MDS: I don’t have a poetry book out yet, but it’s coming! I’m currently finishing up two reference books on rape. My other books are available on Amazon and other sites.

Before we get to your poem, please tell us a little bit about it. What inspired this piece?

MDS: The theme of the poetry contest was the Harlem Renaissance. I chose to write about Zora Neale Hurston because I think she was a brilliant and fascinating woman. She lied about her age (saying she was younger than she was) so that she could finish high school. Then she went on to study anthropology with Franz Boas, and she chose to do fieldwork on Afro-American folklore. She was said to have made an entrance when she entered a party, and in the photos, I’ve seen of her, she’s often wearing a hat. She definitely had a way with words, so I used some of her lines within the poem. Though she won some acclaim in her life, she did not earn wealth, and she died in poverty. Alice Walker is credited with “rediscovering” Hurston and paid to have a grave stone placed on Hurston’s unmarked grave.

Once again Merril, thanks so much for participating in our contest and sharing your heart with us. Without further ado, everyone we give you:

“Zora Neale Hurston”

by Merril D. Smith

 

She makes an entrance

(not tragically colored)

hat on head–

red, blue, black—

she sets back,

ready, life of the party,

her oyster knife sharpened

dissecting, uncovering

(rediscovering)

life

in tales of people, animals,

the divine, the devil,

people without souls

animals who talk,

eyes watching God

she writes of birds and bees

and peach blossoms in the spring,

of love, romance,

women and men

of rabid dogs

and jealousy,

she dies in poverty

almost

(not quite)

forgotten,

her soul crawls out

from its hiding place

time and distance cannot shrink

her words,

those she left behind

to flow like the sea

to meet our shores

 

©2017 Merril D. Smith


You can reach Merril at the social media links below. Go show her some love!

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Merril-D.-Smith/e/B001HOHXH6

Blog: https://merrildsmith.wordpress.com/

Twitter: @merril_mds

Instagram: mdsmithnj


 

 

This poetry contest is sponsored by Yecheilyah of Literary Korner Publishing and the release of Renaissance: The Nora White Story (Book One). Pick up your copy of Renaissance today. Click here.

Dan Alatorre’s WORD WEAVER Writing Contest for July 2017 – let the games begin!

Let’s do this!

Dan Alatorre

Word Weaver logi FINAL trimmed 2Announcing the July 2017

Word Weaver Writing Contest!

Enter your amazing piece of writing! We have over $400 of valuable prize packages!

YOU will have the month of July to enter an amazing piece of your own writing to our contest.

Here’s what you do:

Uh, enter a piece of your writing in the contest. I thought that was obvious.

Here’s what you GET:

1stThe FIRST PLACE Winner will receive THIS prize package:

Moyhill publishing image

  • Cover Design & Publishing Package from Award Winning Moyhill Publishing (www.Moyhill.com)

    • This insanely great package includes
      • COVER DESIGN and EBOOK FORMATTING for your edited book
      • PROOFREADING and up to two electronic proofs with changes if needed
      • MARKETING COVERS (larger formats) for Amazon and Smashwords.
      • PROMOTION for the book placement on the shelves of the Moyhill virtual bookstore.
      • YOUR BOOK GETS FOUR WEEKS AS A PINNED TWEET to over 20,000 followers from Sally Cronin’sSmorgasbord Cafe and Bookstore account.

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Stella Spring Giveaway: The Grand Prize Winner!!

A New Design

I am proud to announce the Grand Prize Winner of The Stella Trilogy Spring Giveaway! Today’s winner is really special and close to my heart, its my baby sister! Abiyah Ysrayl aka Princess. It was hard gathering pics of her where she’s actually smiling! LOL I know you a warrior baby girl but I need you to show those pearly whites today cause you did that. Abiyah is so supportive and it paid off. This contest was so perfect but I’ll detail that in the next post. So anyway, baby sis was Entry #77 which is funny because she’s a twin AND she snagged the #1 Spot so she got her double portion prize.

Congrats Baby Sis! You did that. Yaass.