This is What a Feminist Looks Like

March 8, 2011

Happy Women’s History Month! Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, as women around the world celebrate the progress we have made and continue to fight for new ground. 

I stumbled into feminism through the back door. And honestly, I am still finding my footing. Growing up in a black neighborhood in Atlanta’s suburbs, I went to black schools, had black ballet teachers and dentists and was always exposed to women in powerful positions, while being educated on the historical struggles of my people. So the thought that I could still be denied things for my gender in this day was a slow one.
It was a big eye-opener to begin to network with powerful women journalists out of college through the Journalism & Women Symposium (JAWS). I was schooled on how recent many breakthroughs for women are and how far we still have to go.
Instead of being so tuned in to the lack of black people in power at a company, network or editorial page, I was also counting the few women too. I left my black bubble and came back to Earth, where women were only in bigger numbers when it came to births.  Where it wasn’t just my color that got less pay, but my gender. The feminist switch was flipped on – and has stayed there.
I had a new word to describe why my blood boiled when a male professor called me “sweetie.” I had an explanation for telling my kindergarten charges that boys could help with the dishes during playtime, while volunteering with Heads Up.
And I had a new underdog that I was looking at in the mirror and in millions of faces around the globe.
Over the last four years I have had great opportunities to meet and connect with amazing women who share the same passion to work for the empowerment, enlightenment and equality for women, the world’s greatest underused resource. Thanks to my feminist mentor Marcia Gillespie, I had the opportunity to be a speaker at the 2009 Women + Power Conference, headlined by Gloria Steinem. The feminist leader reminded us there is still much to be done – with love.
Seeing the response to the attack of Lara Logan and the astounding numbers of sexual assault and harassment from the Middle East to my own neighborhood keeps me pushing for change and for women of all walks to have our humanity.  Watching young girls blame Rihanna for being attacked by her boyfriend keeps me hosting chats with young ladies in the making. Witnessing Facebook pick up where Craig’s List left off for sex trafficking keeps me rolling up my sleeves.
Oh wait, I’m not wearing any, just like our fierce First Lady Michelle Obama.
The truth is we all can do something big or small to elevate women.  In honor of Women’s Day, I vow to work on not referring to grown women as “girls.” And ladies, it’s already been a struggle.
What prompted my goal was a meeting with the owner of my building. He called the property manager and said, “The girls are here. Come join us.” Once he hung up, we reminded him we were professional women, not preschoolers. Along with feeling disrespected, I also wondered if I had contributed to this problem.
I call my female friends my girls and when passionately telling them stories, I may preface an answer with a “girrrrl.” But it seems “my girls” may not have been the only ones listening as the colloquial term has been co-opted to now treat us child-like. There are so many words to describe my amazing, intelligent and empowered sister friends, and I am working for “girl” not to be one.
I wish a Happy International Women’s Day to all women!

Sunday Kind of Love

January 21, 2011

I was sad to hear of Etta James illness and listened to her music over the weekend.

I had never been so happy to wash dishes in my life the first time I heard the song "Sunday Kind of Love."

There I was grinning and scrubbing inside the home of Susan Taylor, learning what the lyrics truly meant.

It was 2006 and she spoke that day to the summer interns at Essence Magazine. After an empowering talk (and me being reminded to not be so critical of my mom), she invited a few of us to her place that evening to meet a very special guest: the daughter of Assata Shakur.

Three of us took her up on the offer and headed uptown. Close to the West Side highway and a gorgeous view of the Hudson, we entered a building that said Trump on the outside. We didn’t have to tell the front desk who we were going to see before he directed us to go to level 3. We got in the elevator and didn’t see a 3. Then it clicked. He was saying PH3. As in Penthouse.

We walked in and the room was fill with emotion. As Susan and her husband shared a chair and unconsciously grazed each others arms, Assata’s daughter spoke of the reality of her and her mother’s life. As people (like me) had fantasies of Assata coming back and forth to the states and living out loud, invisibly, her daughter brought us back to Earth. To a place where an exiled grandmother had seen one of her grandson’s once and never met the other. To a place where President Bush was in no way trying to pardon a warrior for civil rights.

But along with the stark reality, was plenty of hope, as we discussed plans for a national celebration Assata’s upcoming birthday and a card that would travel the globe for her.

Just as quickly as things begun, things wrapped up. The room of influential women thinned. Before we could offer, Susan drafted us to help close out the party. We were elated. As I started the water for dishes, she began to offer more wisdom on life and love. She shared how that Penthouse had been a dream of hers to have a place to share with people, just as she had done that night. The view was gorgeous as we looked out at the Hudson and the sunset.
Then her husband came in the room and you could feel the love between these two after years together. She always tells women to talk to your man with love and the difference your tone and adding a baby or honey can make. And she practiced what she preaches as she sweetly asked him to cut on Etta James.

“Sunday Kind of Love” came on the speakers and it was like the soundtrack to the moment as the two talked on their love for Etta while hugged up. This powerful woman, knew how to be a partner.
Dishes done, my sore throat comes up and she makes me ginger tea and gives me some ginger for the road.

I was loving being around so many beautiful Black men for the summer and enjoying the New York dating scene. But seeing her in that kitchen as Etta sang, made me want what they were drinking.
I never used the rest of the ginger.

But “Sunday Kind of Love” has stayed on my mind and in my heart.

The Real Queen to Be . . .

December 10, 2010
After seeing Princess Keisha and her Prince, I thought they would be perfect for my Love Jones column at Jones Magazine. Their story ended up being even more amazing than I could have imagined. As the queen of saying "I have a boyfriend" when I didnt and being Miss Independent, I totally related.

See their story:
It was the busiest time of the year for model Keisha Omilana: New York Fashion Week. On the heels of her national Pantene ad, she was trying to find a casting and chatting away with her Ford Models agent in 2004.

Prince Kunle Omilana watched her and waited half an hour. He then introduced himself, said she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and asked her out. She declined, made up a fake boyfriend and went down the train station stairs.

“My woman’s intuition said go back,” she says. “And when I did he was there waiting and told me ‘This is the best decision you have ever made.’ ”

And it has turned out to be just that. “I knew he was special on our first date. He had rose petals that led to our table and looked in my eyes the whole night.” Now the two are happily married and run the Wonderful Brand, which features fashion, television and online properties. Along with business, their style is also in sync.

Nigerian Prince Kunle came to New York from London to find his bride, a la “Coming to America.”  Princess Keisha had no clue he was royal, until meeting his family shortly before he proposed. She was happy to find a man who celebrated her success. “The first thing he loved about me is that I was driven, independent and a career girl.”

 On their fourth wedding anniversary Princess Keisha snagged this black gown from the Christian Dior outlet in Florida. “I wanted to feel like Old Hollywood that night, so I wore the mink throw passed down in my family from my great, great grandmother.”