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Miss Rizos Is the

Natural Hair Guru

‘Untangling the Roots

of Dominican Hair’

The Dominican Republic has had a long and complicated history with natural hair. The wearing of afros, and curls has long been shunned in the country, in favor of straighter tresses (I was a faithful “Dominican Blowout” recipient myself growing up…thanks, colonialism).

A shift in beauty ideals is presently taking place in the nation, however, thanks to people like Carolina Contreras—the natural hair guru helping “detangle” hair politics in her home country. She promotes the embracing of afro-textured hair through her Santo Domingo-based salon, Miss Rizos.


In a new video entitled “Untangling the Roots of Dominican Hair,” she chronicles her hair journey, and shares how she learned to love her curls, despite the naysayers. In doing so, she’s opened up a space for others to do the same. “There was this huge thirst and hunger for a space where women would be validated,” says the stylist. “It’s been the most amazing activism I’ve done all my life.”

Here’s the video’s YouTube description, via Great Big Story:

In the hot and humid Dominican Republic, most women straighten their naturally curly hair in an effort to conform to deeply ingrained, yet outdated, standards of beauty. But Carolina Contreras is slowly changing this societal norm. Not only does she proudly rock her big curls, she’s helping other women do the same at her natural hair salon. Fondly nicknamed “Miss Rizos,” which means Miss Curls in English, Carolina has come to embody self-love and acceptance on the island.

Catch a glimpse of he magic that’s happening around the natural hair movement in the Dominican Republic with the clip below.











Senegalese Model

Khoudia Diop Serves

Melanin Goddess Vibes

as She Celebrates


Independence Day


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Khoudia Diop serves all kinds of golden melanin gorgeousness for her tribute to her country Senegal on their Independence Day.

The shoot which is titled Nyenyo (The blacksmiths and metalworkers of the Senegalese caste system) was inspired by the Senegal’s Independence Day and saw Khoudia transform into a Wolof woman while trying to share her culture, heritage and the beauty of Senegal. The model said,

My Senegalese roots mean so much to me… It’s very personal. I love my country, my culture, my heritage. It is home and also a major part of who I am. I discovered so much about myself, and my culture has had a huge impact and importance on my journey of self-love… From loving my upbringing to the bullying then seeing the world outside of Senegal. Are there things I would change? Sure! But there are also certain things I cherish about being a Senegalese (Wolof woman).


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Photography: Islandboi Photography
Makeup: Moshoodat
Model: Khoudia Diop



MARCH 9, 2017

MARCH 9, 2017



“I Want to Show Girls

It’s Not Bad to Be Dark

—Different Is





The new rules of beauty are that there are none except for
one: be awesome. Which is why in this month’s issue of
Glamour, we’re profiling 39 gamechangers who are doing
exactly that. Here, 20-year-old model with The Colored Girl
creative agency and face of Make Up For Ever’s
#blendinstandout campaign Khoudia Diop, a.k.a. social
media sensation @melaniin.goddess, shares why her
skin color is her favorite feature—and how that wasn’t
always the case.

I was born in Senegal in 1996. My mom moved to New York when I was two years old, so I was raised by my aunt back home. And in Senegal more than 25 percent of dark-skinned girls bleach their skin.

I never tried it, but I’m not going to lie, I wanted to be lighter. There were times I wouldn’t leave my room for weeks and sometimes missed school because I hated how people would look at me. I really felt ashamed. But my older sister helped me find the positive: She used to show me pictures of Alek Wek to say, “See! You can be a model if you want!”

Then, when I was 15, my aunt had to go to Paris to have eye surgery. My mom wanted me to go to keep her company and attend school there. Right before we went, my sister took me on vacation to Milan. We were walking on the street one day when I saw a big mirror. There were a lot of light-skinned people around us, but when I saw myself and how my skin was popping, it hit me: This is why people look at me. To this day, the first thing that I do every morning is look in the mirror. I’ll tell myself, “Look at your skin. Look at your teeth and your smile. You are beautiful.” 

While in Paris, I got into modeling—photographers would literally stop me on the street. Then I joined Instagram about three years ago. My very first account was @BlackBarbie, which was something my friends called me growing up. But then I thought, You can either call yourself that, or you can find something that will matter to dark-skinned girls. So I came up with @melaniin.goddess. I wanted to show girls that it’s not something bad to be dark, that different is beautiful. It makes me proud to help girls realize that they don’t have to change who they are.

A year ago I moved to Brooklyn to live with my mom, my little brother, and my little sister. She’s eight and has Down syndrome, and we’re only just meeting each other. After more than 15 years apart, my family is finally living together. Today, at 20, I’d say my self-confidence is still a process, but my mom helps. She tells us every day how beautiful we are. My little brother, who is as dark as I am, used to get bullied at school. Yesterday we were talking, and he said, “I don’t care anymore if other kids talk about my skin color.” And he’s only 11. How cool is that?

—As told to Justine Harman




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Monday 3 April 2017

Monday 3 April 2017





Darcus Howe:

‘He translated

the anger of

street protests into

political action’

Journalist, activist and publisher
Darcus Howe, who has died aged 74,
spent his life working for justice
for black British people – and
the struggle is far from over
 Darcus Howe addresses a rally for the Mangrove Nine in Notting Hill in 1971. Photograph: Horace Ove

Darcus Howe addresses a rally for the Mangrove Nine in Notting Hill in 1971. Photograph: Horace Ove

When I heard the news of Darcus Howe’s passing, it reminded me that one of the worst-told stories in Britain is the history of black struggle on these shores. It is almost impossible to trace the impact of his work, because we so poorly understand the context in which he laboured. I managed to go through 20 years of formal education without ever being told a single fact about black resistance movements in the nation. The closest we ever got was learning about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks time and again during black history month.

Howe, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1943, was an instrumental force for change in the black British struggle for equal rights and justice over five decades.

He migrated to the UK in 1961, a pivotal time for black activism in Britain. It had become clear that the movement of people from the former British colonies would not be temporary, with people going back to “whence they came”, as Conservative politician Enoch Powell had hoped. As subjects of the British crown, who fought and died for king and country in the world wars, Caribbean migrants had expected their children to get the best of the British schools system. Those dreams could not have been dashed more abruptly; by the mid-1960s, Caribbean communities were setting up supplementary schools in order to teach children the basics of maths and English, which the system was failing to provide.

It was not only in the schools that discrimination was rife. For young black people, the police were – and continue to be – the boots on the ground, the public face of state racism. Police harassment was rife, and the notorious sus laws – where you could be arrested merely on an officer’s suspicion – were routinely abused and often ended in violence towards young black men. This treatment sparked mass reaction from black communities, who organised and protested and took to the streets. Howe is such an important figure because he managed to bridge the divide between the grassroots social movements, in which he participated, and the state-led campaigns to address inequality, which he influenced.


His key skill, as one of the main figures in the anti-racist, anti-police brutality movement, was to translate the energy and anger of street protests into government action. He had a major impact on Lord Scarman, who was commissioned to investigate the causes of the 1981 riots. The rebellions in Brixton and elsewhere against the sus laws had shaken the nation; the Scarman Report was the first in Britain to take the police force to task for racial bias. As limited as Scarman was in his condemnation of police (he spoke of “a few bad apples” rather than systemic racism), it was a landmark moment in opening up the forces to criticism it laid the foundations for the Macpherson Report in 1999, which investigated the police’s response to the racist murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and propelled an understanding of institutional racism into public discourse.

Howe was the nephew of Caribbean intellectual giant CLR James, who among many other works wrote The Black Jacobins, the definitive history of the 1804 Haitian revolution, when enslaved Africans rose up to overthrow their colonial French masters and formed the world’s first black republic. Howe continued this intellectual tradition, giving a wider, more political voice to the street protests.

Poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and Darcus Howe at the Race Today office on Railton Road, Brixton, 1979 Photograph: Adrian Boot/Adrian Boot /

Poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and Darcus Howe at the Race Today office on Railton Road, Brixton, 1979 Photograph: Adrian Boot/Adrian Boot /

The radical journal Race Today, on which he worked on as editor, was hugely influential in black political movements in the 1970s. Dr Denise Noble, a US-based professor of African American and African Studies, says it was especially powerful to have a “serious black British journal that was both politically and theoretically nuanced.”


Reclaiming this history is important for me not only politically, but also personally. My father, Maurice Andrews, migrated from Jamaica at a similar time to Howe and was engaged in grassroots activism for decades. He was part of the African Caribbean Self-Help Organisation, which is still running after 50 years in Birmingham; he also founded the Harambee Organisation, with which he is still involved. My mother, Carole Andrews, was also prominently involved in anti-racist campaigning, working for years at the organisation formerly known as the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE).

For both of my parents, Howe was a figure who could not be ignored and who made a major commitment to the struggle of the times. He was a central figure in many of the key activist movements over the past 40 years. He was a member of the British Black Panthers, along with key figures such as Althea Jones-Lecointe, Eddie Chambers and Olive Morris. Guerrilla, which airs this week on Sky Atlantic, dramatises that period; Howe was a consultant on the show. The series centres on the so-called “black power” desk at the London Metropolitan police, which was set up to counter the perceived threat posed by black activism over 40 years ago.

In March 1981, the Black People’s Day of Action drew 20,000 people on to the streets of London to protest the police investigation in the New Cross massacre. In May 1981, 13 teenagers had died in a fire at a house party in south-east London, in suspicious circumstances. Howe was a key figure in organising the demonstration, where one of the leading chants was “13 dead, nothing said”. But we would be wrong to memorialise events such as these as history. Over 30 years later, the Interim National African People’s Parliament still organise annual marches because we still have no answers. Justice is too often suspended for black people; the long list of families waiting for justice for their kin who have died after police contact is chilling.

The Mangrove Nine trial in 1971 was a pivotal event in the black British struggle, and another in which Howe played a key role. Howe was arrested and charged after protesting against repeated police raids on the Caribbean restaurant Mangrove in Notting Hill in 1970. He and Jones-Lecointe insisted on representing themselves against the false charges brought against them and seven other defendants. After 55 days at the Old Bailey, the Mangrove Nine were acquitted and– for the first time – judges declared that there was “evidence of racial hatred” in the Met.

Howe also served as chairman for the Notting Hill carnival in 1977 and resisted attempts to move the celebration from the streets of west London where it originated. The political nature of carnival is often overlooked, but it emerged from efforts to provide legal assistance to the black youth who were caught up in the racist riots in the area in 1958. The very concept of carnival is a political act that comes from the history of African enslavement. Enslaved people were given one day off a year and used this to celebrate and reconnect to their African past, which the slaveholders tried in vain to destroy. Attempts to stop carnival, which has happened successfully in Birmingham, and which are still hinted at in Notting Hill, can only be seen as an attempt to suppress political expression.

As we remember and celebrate his life and influence and mourn his death, the best way to remember Howe is as someone who gave voice to a politics and community that was often overlooked. He made a lot of noise and he drew a lot of attention to the struggle for equal rights and justice – and since these battles are far from over, it’s exactly what we should continue to do.















The 2018 Golden Baobab Prize

Is Open for Submissions


Accra, Ghana, 31st March 2017 – Golden Baobab is pleased to announce the call for submissions for the 2018 Golden Baobab Prize. The Prize discovers and celebrates African writers and illustrators of children’s stories and confers awards for their work. After enjoying nine successful years as an industry leader, Golden Baobab this year announces an exciting new phase with a heavier focus on publishing. It also announces the re-opening of the Golden Baobab Prize for Illustrators, the most important award for African children’s book illustrators.

The 2018 Golden Baobab Prize offers a distinct platform for professional African writers and illustrators to kick-start their careers. The Prize will work to facilitate relationships between African publishers and finalist writers and illustrators with the goal to see more African children’s books being published. In view of this, Golden Baobab is excited to expand its publishing network and increase its impact in more countries.

Commenting on the launch of the 2018 Prize Victor Kyerematen, the organization’s Prize Coordinator said, “In the past, Golden Baobab has done a fantastic job of highlighting and honouring fresh voices in African children’s literature. Henceforth, we are eagerly prioritizing work that gets more African books in the hands of children.”

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The 2018 Golden Baobab Prize offers three awards:
• The Golden Baobab Prize for Picture Books, for the best story targeting a reader audience of ages 4-8.
• The Golden Baobab Prize for Early Chapter Books for the best story targeting a reader audience of ages 9-11.
• The Golden Baobab Prize for Illustrators for the best artwork that matches illustration briefs provided, intended for children ages 4-11.

Winners of the 2018 Golden Baobab Prize will receive a cash prize of 5,000 USD. In addition to press publicity, winning stories are guaranteed a publishing deal, finalist writers are connected with publishers across Africa and finalist illustrators participate in exhibitions and workshops.

The final deadline for submission is 1st December 2017. Golden Baobab invites African writers and illustrators to submit entries for this year’s Prize and spread the word among their networks.







CFP ‘Six Mountains on her back’:

(Re) thinking African Feminisms

Colloquium 2017 (South Africa)

Rhodes University
21-22 July 2017

African feminisms have, since their inception over a century ago, been grounded in inclusive and intersectional discourses which seek to challenge and unravel patriarchal, political, existential, and philosophical imbalances in society. As such they have been instrumental in bringing into question some of the ‘blind spots’ and prejudices embedded in Western feminisms. In light of current debates on decolonisation and the continued interest in intersectional politics in the global sphere, Finding Africa invites researchers to propose papers which centre on the theme of African feminisms in any field of the humanities.

All submissions should be 250 word abstracts Word formatted document which can be emailed to by 15 May 2017.

Areas of interest include (but are not limited to):

The Future of African Feminisms
Human Rights
Black-African-postcolonial feminist creative theorisation and methodologies
Visual Culture Productions and Histories
Visual Arts Praxis and Theories
African Feminist Manifestos
The Psychology of African Feminisms
The Uses of the Erotic
Performance Art

This event is a collaborative effort between the Rhodes University Fine Art and English Departments, together with Finding Africa. The co-organisers are Dr Sharlene Khan, Thando Njovane, and Dr Lynda Spencer.





Children’s and Young Adult

Literature of the Caribbean

and its Diaspora


The University of Mississippi Press

CFP Deadline: 1 June 2017

This anthology aims to cultivate and create a space for exploring the history and current state of children’s literature and culture in the Caribbean and its diaspora. The editors invite scholars, teachers, creative writers, online journalists, and activists to consider how literature and the creative arts written or produced for young audiences contribute to the identity of the Caribbean and function as an integral part of its history, culture, and educational system. Caribbean children’s literature is largely under-represented in curriculums and under-theorized in literary scholarship. The limited availability of trade books, the challenges of publishing primarily through houses based in Europe and the United States, and the current turn towards self-publishing have all influenced the direction of the field. This anthology aims to foreground analyses of children’s literature and culture, educational curriculums, and island literary and cultural histories in addition to highlighting recent efforts to improve the availability of literature (including trade books, e-books, or other forms of literacy) for young audiences. Contributors are encouraged to explore the evolution of such literature, the content of literary curriculums for students and/or educators, and the current pressures that limit the publication and production of books and other materials for children and young adults. Especially welcome are interpretations of recently published books, films, or creative projects that target these populations.

The University of Mississippi Press, an academic press with extensive publications in Caribbean Studies and Children’s Literature, has expressed interest in this project. Contributors are encouraged to develop academically grounded material that will document and support the growth and availability of children’s literature in the region.

Various topics might include but are not limited to the following:

  • Pedagogy and Literature in the primary, secondary, and postsecondary curriculums: What literature is currently taught in schools at all levels? What should educators do differently? What do pre-service teachers need to understand to teach literature in ways that speaks to their student populations?
    • History: How has the history of a particular island—its educational system and its history of colonization—influenced the development of children’s literature? How has the concept or image of the child evolved across time?
    • Theory: How might theoretical perspectives inform a reading of children’s literature? Approaches might include eco-criticism, feminist studies, Caribbean studies, post-colonialism, diaspora studies, mythological criticism, emancipatory pedagogy theory, and children’s literary theory.
  • Technology and Literacy
    • Literacy: In what ways is Caribbean children’s literature and culture defined by using alternative methods of storytelling to reach young audiences—whether through chants, rhymes, theater, or spoken word?
    • Technology: What contemporary innovations are currently taking place in other mediums besides books (e-books, film, live theater, etc.) that are transforming the landscape of literacy? How is storytelling finding expression through new mediums? How are communities responding to and building avenues to engage children in literature?
  • Contemporary Writers: How are contemporary writers and illustrators changing the field of children’s and young adult literature? What publishing pathways have brought their work to the public? Marysé Conde, Julia Alvarez, Edwidge Danticat, Beryl Gilroy, and M. NourbeSe Philip all began writing for adults and then shifted to writing for children. In what ways do these authors transform their themes or alter their ideological ground to write for a new audience?

Please send abstracts of 500 words and a brief biography by June 1, 2017 to Betsy Nies ( and Melissa Garcia Vega ( If accepted, complete rough drafts of 5000 to 7000 words will be due by November 1, 2017.









women’s love rights:

anthems from

mentors and muses

“I Want to Be Evil” Eartha Kitt
“You Got the Love” Chaka Khan / “I Like Sex” Marsha Warfield
“Don’t Call Her No Tramp” Betty Davis
“Give It “ RAMP
“Women’s Love Rights” Laura Lee
“Since I Laid My Burden Down” Lawanda Page
“This Is It” Millie Jackson
“Jasper Country Man” Bobbi Humphrey / “That Day” Nikki Giovanni
“Get You Somebody New” Labelle
“I’ve Never Been To Me” Randy Crawford
“Share My Love” Gloria Jones / “August 2014 Interview” Mickalene Thomas
“Do The Funky Do” Sister Sledge
“Ha Ha Ha” The Sisters Love
“Women’s Lib” Lyn Collins
“I Take My Fire With Me” Lea Roberts

This mix was commissioned by Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in conjunction with the exhibit ‘Mickalene Thomas: Mentors, Muses, and Celebrities’ on view February 9 – May 20, 2017. ‘women’s love rights: anthems from mentors and muses,’ convenes black women’s irreverent and inspired assertions of freedom, with emphasis on the revolutionary crucible of the 1970s. Like the blues women of a previous generation, these black women musicians and comedians were chiefly expressing what Angela Davis called “sovereignty in sexual matters,” a heavy but hushed component of freedom pursued in my manuscript, Capacity for Laughter: Black Women and the American Comedic Tradition, and long aired in the artwork of Mickalene Thomas. ‘women’s love rights’ includes some artists featured in the current installation, some artists who have provided titular inspiration to Thomas’ past works and some artists whose style and self-possession reflects that of Thomas’ past subjects. 

Follow this link more details on the exhibit:…es-celebrities/






photo by Alex Lear

photo by Alex Lear





our sister is thin. she is leading her whole family down the street. her four year old is just ahead of her. she and her little man, two year old malik, walk hand in hand behind skipping and giggling sekou. she is not paying any attention to things in the streets: the cars, trucks and busses whizzing by in both directions. they had missed the bus they needed. the evening was nice. warm. so why not walk and why not take a short cut down napoleon avenue, a thoroughfare what used to be one of white folks’ big streets?


a camera swung innocently on her hip beneath the medium sized windbreaker, which enveloped her. although out of sight, the camera was at the ready because she liked to shoot. most of the time without film. she would “see” a scene. compose an artistic comment from a chance encounter. but not being able to afford as much film and processing as she would shoot if she had the green to match her ambition, she would just flash the camera and capture the still in her mind’s eye, the image frozen in her brain as the sound of the shutter-click indicated the shot was complete. some people did not understand taking pictures without film. they either were not deep into art or else they were not poor. but poor artists know, you’ve got to practice your art anyway you can.


cause she was on a family outing. listening to her boys be themselves. actually coming back from standing in line paying a bill and headed to the house that barely qualified as shelter, not to mention was a poor stand-in for a secure and loving place she could accurately call home. because her braids were in place and would not need rebraiding for another three or four months. because the essential bills were now paid. and she did have thirty dollars in her pocket for two weeks of food. because sekou was singing “space is the place…” his favorite sun ra song — oh, she was proud that sekou dug ra. i mean, what parent would not be proud of a four year old with the sensitivity to embrace sun ra? because she was making sure she was walking slow enough so that malik could keep up but fast enough so that sekou would not outdistance them. because malik was just getting over the flu and she kept hugging him from time to time both to cuddle and to take his temperature. because she was enjoying her kids. and had taken fifteen shots of them already today. the last one a little shaky because she didn’t use a flash and the shadows were getting long, which meant shooting at a slow shutter speed and her hand had shook a little as she focused on the look in malik’s eyes and saw the man whose seed spawned malik. the hand shake was not out of hate or even any particular rememberance of love or passion, but rather because this little man looked so much like that big half-a-man and she could not help but wonder would little man grow to become the whole man that the older man was destined never to be. she knew that was her task. to somehow teach these little sweet knuckleheads to become men, somehow, in the absence of a steady man on the scene. if you are a young woman. attractive but not gorgeous. black in color and consciousness. poor as a welfare queen, except not even food stamps stuffed into your bra. proud in the classic “we may not have much but we’re going to make it” way, estranged from your birth family because you have become, some-terrible-how, exactly what your upbringing and college education was supposed to prevent: a poor, single mother of two, head of household, fatherman long gone. if you have struggled with being a statistic for three or four years running. cooped yourself up. did odd jobs here and there. hung on by a thread. managed to hold on to your decency — i.e. declined to live off of ocassional dollars left on the bedside by dawgs who liked the way you jocked their dick — managed to stay physically clean of diseases (and you have found the easiest way to suffer sexual deprivation is to do without completely, except, of course, for the casual hand job in the tub or a particular good spliff of reefer every other week or so), so you’re clean and have managed to hold on to your pride. no begging back to mama. no buckling under to stern papa’s patriarchal nonsense. if you were wearing synthetic clothes even though you prefered cottons and wools. payless sneakers when rockport walkers were really what you needed, especially given that you walked most places you had to go–a buck a throw to ride the bus added up to a tremendous deficit in the pocketbook, and besides, it was usually three bucks to ride because it was cheaper to take family outings then to even think about paying one of the kids in the block to be a babysitter, besides what sense did it make to let kids who were little more than babies watch your babies? if you had finally sold some photos to some magazine for less than you hoped but for as much as you could expect, cashed the money at the corner, paid your electricity bill, paid the rent, and still had thirty dollars and change left over to buy food for two weeks until next payday, because of all of that, if you were shooting a photo of your youngest son and you saw the last man who dispassionately screwed over you staring out of your son’s two year old eyes, your hand would quiver too. all of the above is why her hand shook a little trying while squeezing off that slow-shutter-speed shot.


because of ruminating on all of that and because she just never would have expected it, she wasn’t paying attention to the brother walking toward her until he stopped in front of them. went down into his pocket and began pulling out a pistol that was so long it seemed like it took two hours for him to keep extracting it from its hiding place. he just kept coming up, up, up with that thing.


why was he showing her his gun? was all she could think of at first.


brother was tall but not overly tall. just regular ghetto brother tall. tall enough to be playing ball instead of pulling a gun on her. was moderately attractive, except she did not pay too much attention to his looks because she was faced with the fascination of a lethal weapon about to be aimed at her chest. he maybe weighted as much as her whole family — sekou was no more than forty-some pounds, malik was only about twenty-nine pounds, and she weighed ninety-eight pounds wringing wet — she had weighed herself the last time she took a bath at her girlfriend’s house, her girl friend, whom she hadn’t seen or talked to in months now, kept a scale next to the tub, so when she stepped out, it seemed like the obvious thing to do, to hop on the scale and give it a go, the scale registered ninety eight and a half pounds, she had deducted half a pound for the water dripping off her and for the towel she was clutching and rubbing across her body as she dried herself — so 98 plus let’s say 30 was 128 plus say 45 was 163, no 173, yeah, he looked to weigh 200 or so pounds. shit. he didn’t need no gun to rob her. he could have been like most men and just threw his weight around. but she couldn’t help paying attention to that gun.


a gun is a funny thing when it’s aimed at your chest, when it’s in the hands of somebody who doesn’t give a damn about your life, when it’s loaded and maybe also loaded is the person holding the piece. a gun is funny in the macarbe sense that even though she was a statistic of poverty she had never thought of herself as eligible to become a statistic of homicide until she was confronted by a little piece of specifically twisted metal, phallic shaped and capable of spewing a metal projectile that can rent flesh, shatter bone and easily cause fatal harm.


we had embraced when we met, the huge of my bear hug almost wrapped completely around her twice, my right hand on my left elbow, my left hand vice versa, her living flesh encased against my chest, i could feel her breathing, her small breasts, the slenderness of her back, the top of her head not fully up to my chin, she didn’t look sick or anything, or feel weak, but no one would mistake her for being at the top of her game, she had a semi-nervous gesture when i asked how she had been, both hands went to her hair and tugged the braids back on her head, hands over her ears like she didn’t want to hear the question, and she looked down, away from me, before answering that she was just kind of coming out of seclusion. while she made those silent sad gestures, i was thinking about her children being sequestered in a cramped shotgun double, and, of course, trying to be a bit sensitive, i didn’t ask how she was caring for her kids, i mean i was just another man who was not going to support her two young negro males, and if you ain’t going to solve the problem what right do you have to tell a young mother that she ought to take better care of her kids, doesn’t she know that every day she gets up, dresses them, feeds them, as best she can? i guess if i were she i too would have been in seclusion. and then she tells me that she almost got killed.


but that’s life in the waning moments of the 20th century, everybody is almost getting killed, life, especially in new orleans a recent statistical murder capital of metropolitan america, life is murder. i could tell from the quiet, unhysterical, deliberate, clearly ennuciated, without eye contact at first but then the quick glance up into my eyes, i could tell that life is sometimes death from the way she said the word for the day around our way: killed. i could tell this was not an exaggeration.


you know the old saying, what goes up must come down? it’s not the lift off that’s scary, nor the arcing descent, what is scary is surviving the crash. i’m beginning to understand the anxiety of survival. sort of like how it felt surviving the middle passage. what am i living for? how come i’m still alive? when friends and kin fall all around you, you wonder why you’re still standing. in this case, i was also wondering how she was still standing.


i mean it was difficult visualizing her on the sidewalk, pulling malik close to her with a firm hand that just moments ago was leisurely linked to his little palm. or how did sekou, big eyed and backed back against her thighs, how did he look while some original gangsta practiced his mayhem tactics on this family trio. sister got less than nothing–all the cash she will beg, borrow, earn and steal this year will not cover her annual debt, and some hardleg is trying to jack her up. what a tremendous disrespect for life this is. what kind of parasite would ripoff a whole family whose liquid cash is probably less than the cost of the bullets and the gun being used to rob them?


sister laughs nervously as she relates to me how big the gun was, pantomiming the gun being pulled on her, coming up out the dude’s pants, she uses her hand with finger and thumb stiff at a perpendicular angle and just keeps raising her hand higher and higher until it’s over her head. i imagine when all the money you’ve got is thirty dollars and it’s secreted on your person, and your two young boys are scrunched up against you silently waiting for you to do something, and there’s this big dude standing in front of you about to rob you or whatever, i imagine, at that moment, the gun do look like it will keep growing in size, bigger and bigger and bigger.


“i told him, you know you wrong for that. you see my kids…”


i could not imagine being bold enough to tell a robber he’s wrong for robbing. but beneath the stress of crisis, she rose to protest the moment of her assault.


“i had to tell him, man, you wrong for that. and then i kinda instinctively backed toward the street. before i knew it, we were standing in the street. a car came along. the driver hit his brakes. leaned on his horn. swerved around us and kept going. i was yelling at the car: stop, stop. the dude hollered at me: give me your money or i’ll shoot you. but by then i was standing in the middle of the street, my arms around my kids and then another car was coming. they was just going to have to hit me and my boys, or stop. fortunately the car stopped. i jerked on the passenger front door but it was locked. roll down your window, i begged. help me. please. help me. i pointed at the dude at the curb: that man is trying to kill us.”


i watched her unconsciouly re-enact the escape as she narrated the scenario of resistance to assault. the unsentimental starkness of her words connected me to her like a fishhook in the flesh, each syllable held fast and pulled me closer because it hurt to back away from her. when i had asked how she had been, i had no idea how near she had come to not being and how out of it i would feel as she related to me the tale of her near demise.


although each one of her quiet words conjured up an image in my mind, everything i was thinking was abstract compared to the knot of feelings wrenching my gut as i stood transfixed by the mesmerizing sight of her pantomime, her body jerking through the survival motions: the desperate pulling at the car door, her braids thrashing as she frantically grasped for an opening; the fearless pointing at the assailant, her arm extended, ending in an accusatory finger aimed at some spot to the right of me; the protective collecting of her children, the hugging of open space with right arm and left arm, the hunching over, making a shield out of her body. i was hearing her words with one mind and watching her body with another mind, and both minds were marveling at what they witnessed. she sang and she danced. her words were warrior song, her motions, warrior steps. and yet she was unarmed, all she was doing was defending, defending her right to be, to be woman, to be mother, to be walking down the street with her children. you know we’re in bad shape when a single mother and two children are viewed as easy prey, when a literally poor woman who obviously doesn’t have big bucks can’t take a family stroll through the afternoon without one of her brothers pulling a gun on her, threatening murder, demanding her money or her life.


i was simply standing there listening to her story, painfully aware that i was doing nothing but listening. she was not only doing the work of telling the tale, she had also first done the work of surviving the murderous maze of choices facing her that fatefilled afternoon. when a robber puts a gun in your face, most people’s minds shut down and they become incapable of making calculated decisions, incapable of making any decision. most people freeze up and simply do what they are told. but this sister in the flash of a few seconds figured out how to be a survivor. threaded through the labyrinth of violence and somehow found a path to avoid the palpable possibility of getting murdered. this sister refused to go silently into the book of urban armed robbery and homocide.


i was emotionally exhausted as she continued the story of a murder that didn’t happen. since she was here telling me about it, i knew that the story did not end with her murder, but as she revived the terror of the moment with the sound of her voice and the intensity of her movements, i felt the helpless chill of realizing just how fragile we all are in confronting the callous brutalities of contemporary life.


even though it would have been a tragedy had she been shot, the greater shame is that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, unbelievable about this story. if i didn’t know it before, i knew it now: the realities of late 20th century new orleans had predisposed me to accept murder as a normal way of life. i wondered what i would have done had i actually been a witness to the attempted robbery. how would i have reacted if i were a passerby? would i have driven away, like the driver of the first car that almost hit them, or would i have simply stood motionless as a tree witnessing a black on black lynching, a black man assaulting a black woman?


“it was an older black man at the wheel of the car that stopped. i pounded on the window. i looked over my shoulder at the dude standing on the curb with the gun still out. please, help us, i shouted. the man unlocked his door. i pushed my kids in first.”


then she addressed me. reminded me that i was not innocently an uninvolved spectator. by directly addressing me, she did not allow me the simple escape of observing her as though she was a television or a movie screen. she reminded me that i, a man, was looking at her, a woman. what was the relationship of my manhood to her? as “a man” i could be a perpretator or i could be a helpmate. she reminded me that manhood was no abstract choice. day to day, incident to incident, relation to relation, one on one, one to many, one to none, each man had to choose how he related to each woman. i didn’t say anything as she interrupted the narrative flow, looked directly at me and made a parenthetical remark as she continued. what could i say?


“man, it was some shit like in a movie. it was happening so fast. but what was i going to do? i didn’t want my kids to see me getting shot or nothing. or whatever that man with the gun intended to do to me.” the awfulness of “whatever” hung in the air like the scent of foulness in a slaughterhouse. i said nothing and just waited for her to hurry up and get away from the man with the gun.


“at first i was going to tell the kids to run but they wouldn’t move. they just kept clinging to me. so when i pushed them out into the street, they kinda was resisting. but it was the street and maybe getting run over by a car or else standing still and getting robbed and maybe getting shot. lucky for us, a car stopped. so after i got the kids in the car, i jumped in behind the kids. the man who was driving asked me what was wrong. i said just drive please. please drive. and he drove off. i didn’t even look back. to this day i couldn’t really describe that dude to you, but i can still see that big-ass gun.”


and then it was over. she stopped talking. went into herself for a second or so to lock down whatever emotions that retelling and reliving the tale had set loose.


once she was back to the present, she looked up and into me in real time, swung her attention to my presence and calmly met my gaze without the terror of the past beclouding her bright brown eyes. she was no longer back at the scene of the crime, she was now standing in safety before me, a slight, very slight, smile creasing her face. silent. and then she said: “i’m alright now, but i been kind of staying inside, yaknow.” and then she giggled nervously. i mumbled something about being glad that she was ok, and then recognizing that i had nothing substantial to add, i changed the subject.


days later, i find myself facing the question: what are you going to do about it? it’s over but it’s not over. murder marches on. armed robbery careens through our community unabated. no matter how i twist the combination of causes and effects, proactions and reactions, i don’t come up with any great new insights into the problem.


in terms of dealing with our very real social problems, i am a beggar standing lonely outside a banquet of the damned. i don’t possess any secret solutions or even any short term suggestions. but i know i must say something. so i raise up these few words and shout out to all my brothers: hey, my brothers, if you see a young sister, reed thin, dark skinned, walking down the street with two big-eyed kids, hey, please don’t fuck with them. and brotherman, if you find them in trouble, please help them. that’s the least a human being can do. help, and, most certainly, do no harm.


—kalamu ya salaam








Sunday Mar 26, 2017

Sunday Mar 26, 2017




Bust of Mary Ann Shadd, black abolitionist, feminist, and publisher, by sculptor Artis Shreve Lane in the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Freedom Park - Chatham, Ontario

Bust of Mary Ann Shadd, black abolitionist, feminist, and publisher, by sculptor Artis Shreve Lane in the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Freedom Park – Chatham, Ontario

Mary Ann Shadd Cary:
black suffragist,
abolitionist, publisher,
and lawyer 

Watching and reading news stories about immigrants in the U.S. fleeing to Canada for fear of being deported by Donald Trump’s xenophobic policies prompted thoughts of a past when black Americans fled to Canada to escape slavery. While U.S. schools have taught quite a bit in recent years about the Underground Railroad, much less has been taught about what actually happened to black folks once they got there.

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, it would be interesting to examine some of what I’ve learned about Canada, blacks from the U.S. settling there, abolition, and women. Years ago I spent time researching an oral history of my mom’s great aunt Annie, who fled enslavement in Loudoun County, Virginia, as a young girl and made it all the way to Canada on foot. According to my aunts who knew her, Annie and another girl were smuggled out of Loudoun by a free black bargeman. They then walked overland, sleeping in fields.

One story they remember her telling is about approaching a house owned by white people to ask for food. They were allowed to sleep on the porch next to the family dog to stay warm but were given no blankets. Not quite the passage one imagines when “underground railroad” is mentioned in school. Aunt Annie didn’t like to talk much about her experience in slavery—or at least didn’t talk about it much in front of children. My aunts only remember that she ran because she said she had “a very mean mistress.” She did not remain in Canada after slavery ended and returned to the states, where she married and bought a home back in Loudoun.

In the process of doing that research, I happened upon the story of Mary Ann Shadd-Cary, a free black woman, abolitionist, feminist, and publisher.

Born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1823, Mary Ann Shadd was a teacher, journalist, and outspoken leader of the Canadian emigration movement during the 1850s.  Shadd grew up in an abolitionist household. She was the eldest child of Abraham Doras Shadd, a prosperous shoemaker and veteran of the War for American Independence, and Harriett Parnell Shadd.  Like many northern elite free blacks, Shadd received a Quaker education.  It was through her activist family, teaching and journalism that Shadd secured a pathway into antislavery politics, joining other disenchanted blacks who advocated voluntary relocation to places where slavery had been abolished. Western Canada, now southern Ontario, became a geographic focal point for many black nationalist emigrationists.


Settling in Canada was a symbolic gesture as well as a concrete effort to establish independent free black settlements.  Shadd herself wrote of the hypocrisy of the United States, which had identified as a democracy, yet supported slavery.  In Canada, part of the British monarchy, blacks would find political and economic freedom.  One of the central goals of emigrationists was to establish independent black farming communities, free of white control. During her residence in Chatham, Ontario, Shadd struggled to keep her school afloat.  She eventually abandoned teaching and turned to journalism, taking over the Provincial Freeman in Windsor, Ontario in 1853. As the primary editor of the Freeman, Shadd traveled throughout Ontario and parts of the United States in an effort to drum up subscriptions for the fledgling newspaper.  In the process, she wrote essays about her travels, revealing her support for sex and race equality.  After the Civil War and the death of her husband, Thomas Cary, Mary Shadd Cary returned to the United States, where she earned a law degree from Howard University. She died of stomach cancer in Washington, D.C. in 1893.

She was the second black woman to earn a law degree in the U.S.

At the age of 60 she became only the second Black woman in the United States to earn a law degree behind Charlotte E. Ray, also a Howard University School of Law graduate. Shadd Cary, post-slavery, adopted women’s rights as one of her causes. In her later years she began working alongside Susan B. Anthony in the National Woman Suffrage Association, even testifying before the House of Representatives for women’s right to vote. Mary Ann Shadd Cary would eventually become the first Black woman to vote in a national election due to her efforts.

While Annie and Mary Ann were both both black women, their Canadian sojourns were very different. Though both ended up returning to the U.S., one fled north to escape brutality while the other went to Canada to fight against it.

For a detailed biography of Shadd Cary, a suggested read is Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century, by Jane Rhodes

mary shadd 02

“Rhodes provides a well-researched, balanced, clearly written assessment of the extraordinary life of this trailblazing African American feminist and reformer.” ―Choice

“In this book we see how a courageous and pugnacious journalist-activist fought arduously to attain freedom from male dominance and establish a model for future feminists.” ―Quill & Scroll

“Jane Rhodes’ wonderful biography of Mary Ann Shadd Cary… is an insightful and moving portrait of a determined and resourceful Black woman who put all she had into ending slavery and securing full human rights for her people.” ―Darlene Clark Hine

Mary Ann Shadd Cary was a courageous and outspoken 19th-century African American who used the press and public speaking to fight slavery and oppression in the United States and Canada. Her life provides a window on the free black experience, emergent black nationalisms, African Americans’ gender ideologies, and the formation of a black public sphere

Reviewer Felecia Jones Ross writes:

This biography is a culmination of Jane Rhodes’ years of scholarship on the Canadian antebellum African-American experience. The author’s ability to piece together information from secondary sources and from Cary’s scattered and incomplete writings represents what is required in producing African American historical scholarship. As a result, readers learn about the interactions between the different factions of free antebellum African American activists. Furthermore, readers see celebrated African American and white figures such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe from the perspective of Cary, who did not necessarily agree with their stances.

In her review in the Journal of Negro Education Jane Rhodes was critical of flaws in the scholarship in this biographical Canadian production about Shadd. But I’m posting a clip because it includes interviews with some of Shadd’s descendants.

This documentary focuses on the 10-year period when Shadd Cary lived in Canada, and it uses her life to illustrate the experiences of African Canadians in the 1850s. Translating this story onto film is a difficult task as there are few photographs to illustrate the narrative, and limited documentary sources. Thus, this filmmaker resorts to historical reenactment to create some visual impact. Actors portray Shadd Cary and her associates, while a narrator tells the story. The film does a good job of explaining some of the issues confronting these Black communities established by missionaries and settled by former slaves. The film also does its best to evoke Shadd Cary’s distinctive, and often radical, political voice as she fought against slavery and discrimination, and championed the cause of Black emigration. Perhaps most interesting are the interviews with Shadd Cary’s descendants, who give a contemporary face to the African Canadian presence.

There is not a lot of visual material available on Shadd. This film was made as a result of some of Shadd’s letters being found in a family home which was being demolished.

The film’s title is Mary Ann Shadd Revisited: Echoes from an Old House.

This film, by Allison Margot Smith, is about a collection of letters to and from African American abolitionist Mary Ann Shadd between 1851 and 1863 – years that she lived in Canada. The letters were left in her house near Chatham Ontario when she returned to the U.S.A. and were eventually forgotten. They were accidentally rediscovered in 1974 by the then owners of her house, when they had the house torn down, just before the rubble was burned. When offered, the letters were accepted by Archives of Ontario for preservation. The premise of Smith’s film is that, had the letters been found before the 1960s, they might not have been offered to, or accepted by the Archives. She argues that it was the emergence in the 1960s of ideas about Social History, the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement that led the owners of the letters and the Archives to realize their importance.

You can read more on Smith’s thoughts on making the film here.

While exploring Shadd, I encountered the histories of black settlements in Canada—which she critiqued.

Shadd used her newspaper to comment on all aspects of black life in Canada, but she focused especially on problems of racial discrimination and segregation. She assailed anyone, blacks and whites alike, who sought to compromise with slavery, and she particularly castigated her fellow blacks who were prepared to accept second-class status. She reserved her greatest vituperation, however, for self-segregated black settlements: to her, these settlements only fostered discrimination, and she urged blacks to seek assimilation into Canadian society. John Scoble and Josiah Henson of the Dawn settlement were pilloried almost as exhaustively as Bibb, while grudging approval was granted to the Elgin settlement under William King.

What was the Elgin Settlement?

Reverend William King, a Presbyterian minister trained in Scotland, married a Southern belle in Louisiana where he had been teaching. Upon the deaths of his wife, child, and later his father-in-law, King, an abolitionist, found himself the owner of a number of slaves. He opposed slavery, but he could neither sell them nor leave them since they would be re-enslaved, so he opted to take them to Canada West where the Presbyterian Church had placed him. He arranged for the fertile lands near Chatham, Ontario to be purchased through the Elgin Association. King, along with the 15 former enslaved Africans, formed the Elgin Settlement, or Buxton.

The new residents were provided with many rules and advice about how to create and sustain the community. The school he operated provided a high level of education with graduates going on to study at the University of Toronto. The success of this Black community in agriculture, coupled with the reputation of the school, led to a rise in the population. By the 1860s at least 2,000 people lived there. The success of this Black settlement has been commemorated; it is now a national historic site, a cultural landscape of early African-Canadian life preserved in rural Ontario.

I have not yet found a record yet of my great-aunt Annie in Canada while wading through the materials now available online about the numerous black settlements that flourished there. But I’m grateful that searching for her led me to Shadd. Perhaps future research on black women’s experiences in Canada will eventually lead me to a record of Annie’s time there.

Women’s history may be only one month long on the calendar, but for me it is important all year round.