Meaningful Living in the Hashtag Age

Every day brings a new opportunity to learn, love, and grow. Failing to take advantage of these opportunities will result in regrets. Therefore, I opt never to have regrets, but instead to be a student of life.

This week my life lessons came from four black writers who I respect — blessed with the opportunity of a lifetime to interview three of them during the BLK. INK virtual book fair hosted by the Black Writers Workspace, I learned several key life lessons from Kevin Powell, Ardain Isma, and Odessa Rose. Also, as I honored the life and legacy of the late author and activist bell hooks, I immersed myself in her words and took another life lesson with me that I want to share.

Lesson #1 — Books have POWER.

During my interview with Kevin Powell, author of 14 books, journalist, activist, and filmmaker, we engaged in an honest conversation about his autobiography “The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood.”

Kevin’s book is his life story of surviving poverty and crime in the streets of New Jersey. It explores how he found his way into a world of activism and community building. It also covers the exciting role he played in the launch of hip hop music and his journey to becoming the man he, his mother, and those he loved would respect. The book is honest and raw, and I connected with his story in ways that surprised me.

Although we grew up in different parts of the country, Kevin and I are products of poor/working-class communities, hard-working and no-bullshit mothers, and a soul-stirring love of books and hip-hop music.

But with all our similarities, I left the interview learning the most simplistic lesson. Kevin reminded me that books have the power to change lives.

Books changed the trajectory of both of our lives by transforming our impoverished minds, bodies, and spirits. Books changed how we saw ourselves and our surroundings. They allowed us to dream and to expand our worldviews. They opened doors and connected us to braver possibilities.

For Kevin, books like “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” ushered in his love of activism. Because of his experiences, his writings and literary accomplishments secure his place in history as a modern-day griot, telling life stories during the rise of hip-hop and in the trenches of police brutality, racism, and sexism post-civil rights movement.

My time with him was short but meaningful. I am a better person because of our encounter, and now I’m convinced, more than ever, that black writers must keep writing.

Lesson #2 — The Black Experience IS the Human Experience.

My interview with writer, college professor, and Haitian historian Ardain Isma revigorated my interest in embracing the black experience from the African diaspora to now.

As we discussed Ardain’s journey from Haiti to America at the age of 17, he reveals the heartbreak he felt leaving his mother behind and his renewed focus on education and writing in his new homeland. As a result of his love of writing, Ardain penned two books seeded in his love of Haiti and his commitment to Black empowerment. He also hosts a YouTube interview series where authors have a platform to talk about their work, and he’s the Editor-In-Chief of CSMS magazine.

Ardain introduced me to ‘The Equality of the Human Races’ by Author Anténor Firmin, a pioneering work of early anthropology written in French by a Haitian who is one of anthropology’s first scholars of African descent. Firmin published the book in Paris in 1885, twenty years after the ‘Father of Racism,’ Count Arthur de Gobineau, published “The Inequality of Human Races.” De Gobineau’s racist tome was translated into several languages and influenced Nazi ideology. But, decades ahead of his time, Firmin’s work proved that the human races are equal.

I felt a sense of pride learning from Ardain, his love of Haiti, and his commitment to sharing the prolific life story of great minds like Firmin. Racism was purposely embedded into the foundation of nation-building. Books like De Gobineau’s helped infuse systemic discrimination and inequality in every facet of life. I left this conversation understanding that our country will never embrace unity and equality until we appreciate the black experience.

Lesson #3 — Write what you LOVE!

My final interview led me to embrace the work of a black, heterosexual, female writer who took a chance to write a fictional story about a black, gay, female character in a contemporary novel that became a featured movie.

Until our interview, I’d never met Odessa Rose, the author of “Water in a Broken Glass,” but I’d followed her work on social media. Nothing prepared me for her humble demeanor, love of words, and Baltimorean pride.

Odessa wrote “Water in a Broken Glass,” a novel about a sculptor who struggles with her sexuality and self-image. The storyline was conceived after Odessa’s chance encounter with a friend who was concerned about coming out to her for fear of how she would respond. Hopeful to help others in similar situations, Odessa’s story is a good lesson for people who are either dealing with coming out to friends and family or are having a hard time accepting the sexuality of someone they love.

Like so many writers, Odessa told the story that kept her up at night. She listened as the character developed within her spirit, and she let the story drive her to write a book that was so convincing that a filmmaker asked, and ultimately earned, the rights to turn it into a movie.

Our discussion clarified that if I’m going to be a writer, I must write! Sometimes the work will let me know it’s ready to be delivered to the world. Sometimes readers will beckon for my stories, and I must trust that the world is prepared for my greatness. Nevertheless, great writers WRITE! Odessa’s story proved this to me.

Check out “Water in a Broken Glass” on Amazon Prime or Apple TV.

Lesson #4 — Love is EVERYTHING!

This week we lost another great author, activist, and leader. bell hooks parted this life, but she did not part our hearts. Instead, she gave us the most exceptional understanding of love, forgiveness, and unity. Her life story embodies the lessons I hope to live forever. I embrace her greatness and pray it will sustain me for years to come:

The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.
— bell hooks, Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations, 1994

To Kevin, Ardain, Odessa and bell hooks, thank you!

HERO IN YOU

Are you in need of a HERO? Are you waiting on a SUPERMAN or WONDER WOMAN to descend from the sky and protect you from a struggling world?

What if there are no heroes coming to your rescue? What if you have the STRENGTH and courage you need to change the world, and YOU were created to be the HERO of your own life?

Each one of us is blessed with the talent to build a world comprised of integrity and goodwill. But to do so, we must ACTIVATE our faith and move into our destiny.

In these unpredictable times, it’s important that we stop waiting for our heroes to rescue us and start LIVING like the responsibility is ours, and ours alone.

So, ask yourself: Am I up for the task? Am I warrior-ready? Can I be a hero in my community? Can I be a hero in my home? What will it take to change the world around me for the better?

If you possess the power to be a strong leader, change maker, founder, AUTHOR or advocate, start TODAY! Put on your cape, strap on your armor and get ready to sacrifice your life for what is good and honorable.

Be your own HERO and watch your life soar!

~ Author MJ
Blog: http://www.1stmorningthoughts.com

We Will Vote!

Check out my latest poem, We Will Vote! I wrote this while I stood in line for over five hours to vote during the first day of early voting in Louisiana. There were hundreds of people standing with me. It was inspiring and well-worth the wait. #makeaplantovote #wewillvote

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. we heard you

U.S. Representative John Lewis we heard you

Reverend Dr. William Barber we heard you

First Lady Michelle Obama we heard you

Your voices sung like wind chimes on a still and lonely night

Chattered like the hate that rose against us

Stuttered like hymns hovering above the cotton fields

Your forceful words swung like tattered rope around a lynching tree

Tarnished leaves with blood and tears

Unscathed ground tested by hate and fear

You called us out of idealistic virtue

Where fairness thrived and no color dwelled over man like God

Where rights were assured, and voting was revered as an act of civility and pride

You rocked us from our comfy places to our rightful position

Your words carried us to the warring ground

Stirring us to stand guard over what is sacred to a blessed life

We heard the echo of your crying souls

Banished for its impassioned quest to seal our fate of liberty

We heed the call to move forward and stand firm

We replicate your solid demand to know who we are and why we fight without fault or fear

Martin, we heard you say, “Give us the ballot”

For in the belly of the ballot box are the gems of democracy this land stands for

We believed your conviction and live to make your dream our rallying cry

John, we heard your call to act

And now our commitment is to “get out there and push and pull until we redeem the soul of America”

Your words exemplified your greatness and a stern eye of righteousness

You were a force to be reckoned with

Reverend Barber, we heard your demands

A push for unity from a true Conductor of Peace

“Forward together” we march. “Not one step back!”

Your words embody our fight to fill the coffers of those in need

Despite what the wealthy claim is there’s

It is why we move in unison, hand-in-hand towards equality and justice

Michelle, we heard you sing proud and loud

Words now imprinted on our minds, “Vote like our lives depend on it!”

You spoke to a generation of youth

Pushing for the seeds of justice to be our proudest possession

Teaching grace to angels with warring souls who needed you most

And now we stand, side-by-side, soul-by-soul waiting for our turn to strike a fatal blow to what threatens to make our freedoms no more

We heard you and we accept this challenge

We embrace the dream you set forth into the wind, the purpose of your mission and the thunder behind your words

You stood for us; we stand strong with you

We will vote like the day has no promise of a dawning sun

Like the rights of all men have slung stars into the sky and created the bond that holds our universe together

We will vote because those who died in the blistering cotton fields could not

We will vote because our patient soldiers for peace marched, sat and endured jail to see us through

We will vote like our lives are tied to every ballot, even when our rights are being auctioned to the lowest bidder

We will vote because your words are burning in our soul and drumming songs of victory awakening the better angel in us all

We heard you. NOW, WE WILL VOTE!

By Michelle D. Jackson

When Michelle Britto, a black writer from New York, went online to search for examples of a brown-skinned model to show the tone and texture of African American skin complexions to her children’s book illustrator, she discovered something that caught her attention.

Just as she struck the Google image search icon, a skin color index with illustrations of varying skin tones appeared on her computer screen. It did not take long for Britto to realize that the easily found Google image was more than a chance discovery; it was the encouragement she needed to address the negative stereotypes and systemic colorism that has hindered women of color for centuries.

The skin color index, which showed one image of a woman in six different skin tones ranging from light (or Caucasian) to dark (or African/black), described the lighter skin tone as “normal.”

This presumption is not uncommon to black women who have existed in a society that subliminally implies that a woman’s beauty and desirability is based on the color of her skin, the hue of her eyes and the length and texture of her hair. Societal norms are filled with images of white women as examples of true beauty and black women, particularly those with darker skin, are seen as exemplars of the aesthetically unattractive.

Historically, black women were represented as maids or ‘mammies’ — black maid-servants — during slavery who looked and acted in ways to satisfy their male-masters while deemphasizing their beauty to appease white female slave masters and make them feel beautiful in their presence. Even as more women of color emerge as dominant figures in business, movies, music, and sports, there remains an unconscionable belief that women of color are less appealing in comparison to women with lighter skin.

Britto, with a new-found urgency to correct the unfair and stereotypical skin color index and redefine what “normal” means, decided to enlist a few of her writing colleagues to help demystify the beauty all women of color embody. They call their work, The Skin I’m In: A black women writer’s protest to the negative images of dark skin and the cultural upliftment of all women of color. This work is a living document to be continued by women writers with strong voices and an unwavering belief that skin is beautiful no matter the color, tone, or texture.

The Skin I’m In by Women Writers of Color

Almond Toasted by Michelle R. Britto

Almond toasted brown is my skin tone by birth.

When I look in the mirror there is nothing that makes me irk.

In the summer is when my DNA is put through an undeniable test.

It’s when my skin is at its absolute best.

It turns copper once the sun sets in.

The skin I’m in reminds me that my Afro-Caribbean is not just a part of my past, but a part of my now.

The sun treasures my skin.

It’s so “NORMAL” the way it colors in.

No sunscreen of 101.

My skin embraces the light because we are one.

Shea butter nourishes my skin,

And I can feel a glow from within.

My skin is EVERYTHING to me.

It tells the story of plantations and cotton fields.

My light brown skin was considered a plus,

In a house full of sin my ancestors could not fuss.

Had I’d been there; I’d say leave me to the corn rows and cotton fields.

So much pride, no longer in those years.

Melanin is beauty, yet it’s what many fears.

Thomas Jefferson had his share of my skin tones.

The number of his kin is still unknown.

To call my skin not “NORMAL” is the biggest mockery of all.

Today I celebrate my skin as the diaspora of a history that doesn’t break me.

Imagine Google in 2020 trying to berate me.

The day I googled skin tones and a white image appeared, it was called “NORMAL,” I see no “NORMAL” here.

Caramel Brown by Michelle D. Jackson

My complexion is not what the world would call “NORMAL.” Normal is too safe for the life I was made for. It is a blank canvas with no brilliancy or light; it is a monochrome palette, with no creativity or imagination. Normal is a predictable stream of consciousness that lacks thrill and luster. No! I am not NORMAL — God did not make me that way. Instead, He broke the mold when He birthed me in the swell of an Alabama sun. Blessed me in the belly of a light skin queen and in the loins of a russet-skinned king, both only a few generations removed from the cotton fields.

God crafted a beauty only majesties could comprehend. He spared no grace, mercy, miracles, or mystery when he buried my warring soul in copper-tone mink and covered my body in buttery sweet caramel brown skin. I do not care to be “normal” or to fulfill an earthly man’s desire. My skin is a reminder of the strength that flows in my bloodline. It screams to the world what my brave ancestors whispered daily to the wind — I am something wonderful. I am something real. I am something desired. My power lies in the beautiful brown skin I’m in.

Espresso Almond Butter by Jacquelyn Randle

Complex yet beautiful none the less. A shade that changes throughout the seasons glowing whenever the sun hits it. An illuminating radiance, reminiscent of a mother’s pregnancy glow. A shade often overlooked in the debate of dark skin versus light skin in my youth; outside confusion saying, “you’re so bright” while others saying the classic “you’re getting dark.” Stuck in the middle of the color spectrum. Memories of being young and arguing that “I’M BROWN, NOT BLACK,” not realizing BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL NO MATTER THE SHADE. Stuck in the middle admiring the blue-black shades fresh from The Motherland or the rare red hair and freckles the lighter end sometimes gained from their DNA. Espresso almond butter is me. My children offshoots of its variance, soaking in the knowledge that our skin is not only unique but the curls on our heads that shrink then extend down pass our backs. Picking up the quick wit to answer “melanin,” when asked what are we mixed with or the knowledge to know that Crayola has yet to perfect our shade of Espresso Almond Butter but we can mix up a few and get it just right.

Espresso Brown Skin by Tam Yvonne

Silky smooth, so creamy, a shiny skin tone that overflows with warmth and luminosity effortlessly… dark in color, chocolate like a Hershey bar, who be that woman? That woman be ME! But, “ME” is not considered “NORMAL” in a world that tells you light is beautiful and publicly demonize anything dark in color. Even in my black community we have been brain washed, courtesy of the Willie Lynch Letter 1712, where this British slave owner taught his methods to other slave owners on how to control your black slaves. Several methods were shared, but the one that has always stood out in my mind, ever since I read that letter in my pre-teen years was the way he suggested using dark skin slaves vs. light skin slaves, and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves; and this method was evident back in 1712 with the dark slaves in the fields; and the light slaves in the house pampering babies and being play mates to the masters kids. Fast forward 2020; and I am still hearing from people in my own race, “you are beautiful for a dark skin woman.” Wow!! This is 2020, right? Why can’t I just be a beautiful woman? It still saddens me at times to see my own race of people; and the world in which we live not consider dark girls and dark women beautiful, dark skin has never been and still is not considered good enough. But, I am here to tell you, I have ALWAYS been PROUD and always will be of my skin complexion and how beautiful we are as a people in our various shades of brown that comes with a diverse and radiant nature that glows and is often times highly sought after from those with less melanin in their skin. GOD did a good thing when HE put me in the skin, I am in.

Dark Chocolate by Tendai Magidi

Fearfully and wonderfully made.

Unworthy of unprovoked attacks.

I hold an unquestioned right to be recognized as a respectable individual.

This black skin I`m in,

A distinguishing feature that facilitates my identification.

A part of me that never fades with age.

Resembles the uniqueness of my racial origins.

In this dark skin I am,

Which I wear proud and unshaken by racist taunts,

I bear a striking resemblance of true beauty.

In a storm of protest, I don’t wish to scramble for superiority but,

I raise a voice against the wrong and unfair resent of my black skin,

To solemnly express my concern for racial equality,

Tolerance and for all races to build unity

And maintain racial relations.

Colour difference does not make us different species.

Let not our difference in colour turn rejection into a norm.

Because of my black skin,

Turn me not into a victim of racial discrimination,

Shunned by society.

I`m not an epitome of misfortune.

My skin does not make me hideous.

Rather my black skin is my pride,

The reflection of my beauty.

I reflect no regrets of the colour I wear,

My black skin, My pride.

To connect with the writers, join the Black Writers Workspace Facebook Page

I am protected.

I am protected.

Secured.

Armored.

Guarded.

God does not leave me alone or lonely.

God does not leave me unequipped or ill-prepared.

God protects me because I am His most precious possession.

The enemy must defeat Him FIRST before he can touch me.

I am protected.

Secured.

Armored.

Guarded.

I AM GOD’S CHILD.

By Michelle D. Jackson

God promised us many things.

A life of glory and merciful meaning.

Purpose, love, and righteousness.

Peace, grace, and selflessness.

He granted us abundance that far reached what we could embody. He blessed us with the power to rise above sickness, hurt, and melancholy.

He gave us his most precious thing, His love transcended in an earthly being.

He loved us so much He left to the world a priceless deed, the life of his son, His only seed.

And now, in the wake of what we can not control, God performs the most sacred role.

He does just what He said He would, He renews, restores, and protects the poor, humbled, and spiritually good.

Through the uncertainty of a sickness we struggle to cure, God resets the world, creating a new, blessed universe, holy and pure.

Our sinking earth ravaged by ego and greed, now has a fighting chance to succeed.

Starting with what He loves most, God fights to unify the family with His heavenly host.

Then seeking to end what is destroying our earth, He uses a virus to remind us of our godly worth.

Replenishing the sanctity of things we can not comprehend, God empowers our fears to bring us back to where He intend.

He reduces pollution while we debate climate change, using His strength to break us out of illogical mental chains.

Seeing to the elderly, who created the path for which we follow, God promotes them to a heavenly home, while our pride fall to an earthly bravado.

Those who die, die strong with fearless faith, as a reminder to the living that death brings God’s ultimate grace.

He has put in motion, The Reset.

A time of prayer, redemption, confession, and reflection.

A time to reconnect, reassess, and redress.

A time to rekindle, remember, and reminisce.

A time to learn to love again with complete fearlessness. A love that doesn’t require touch or feel or tenderness.

But one that consumes the heart and reverberates from six-feet apart.

What may appear final, is far from the end. Only God controls how this world will ascend.

No sickness, no greed, no leader-less land, will destroy what is safely secured in God’s hand.

So stay-in, stay strong, believe what God says is real, but never give up on His power to heal.

Embrace The Reset. You know in your heart it’s time to start again. To put what is important first and make God’s love and kindness transcend.

By Michelle D. Jackson

We are excited to add another poem by writer Cambrin Daniel to our Poetry Showcase.

We are looking for original poetry by new poets and spoken word artists who are passionate, thought provoking and honest. To showcase your work and register to win cash to help launch your writing career, send your poetry or spoken word video to events@prsolutionsllc.org.

Well Done

A Message from an Overachiever with a Restless Heart for God

So often my friends and colleagues ask me, “Do you sleep?” This question is understandable because I can sometimes appear to be constantly working on a new project instead of enjoying my life. Therefore, I always pause before answering because I don’t know if the person is applauding my effort to accomplish my goals, questioning my ability to find peace and contentment in this life or if I look tired and weary from my work. Either way, the question ultimately leads me to think about Christ and his time on earth.

In only 33 years, Christ healed the sick and fed the poor. He counseled people in need and taught those who sought knowledge and understanding. He worked miracles that changed lives and fought for what was right. He loved people who didn’t love him back and he sacrificed his life for our sins. In 33 years on earth, Christ accomplished more than I or anyone could ever accomplish.

So, do I sleep? Yes. Comfortably. Because the things God has asked me to do with my time on earth is worth the sacrifice. It’s worth the long days writing, running my business and nonprofit, and taking care of my family. It’s worth the hard times when I’m unsure of myself but refusing to quit. Don’t misunderstand my work ethic or the work ethic of people in your life like me. I have an amazing life that I want to live like Christ. I’m just focused on one thing, and one thing only – hearing God say to me, “Well Done!” Then I will rest with him in peace for eternity.

Michelle Jackson is an entrepreneur and nonprofit leader and author of fictional novels The Heart of a Man and From Darkness to Night. To learn more about her work, visit http://www.authormichelledjackson.com.

NOW

We are excited to announce the launch of 1stmorningthoughts.com Poetry Showcase. Designed to highlight the work of indie writers who are inspiring the world around them, the showcase will periodically post work that speaks to the heart, mind and soul of poetry enthusiasts. Our first poem is called NOW by writer Cambrin Daniel from Birmingham, AL.

To submit your work, email events@prsolutionsllc.org.

1st Morning Thoughts

To say I waited patiently to see Hamilton The Musical is an understatement. From the moment I realized it was the story of the American Revolution set to rap, I was sold. Despite the fact I couldn’t make my way to New York to see it on Broadway, and I wasn’t sure who the heck Alexander Hamilton was, I desperately wanted to see it the very second it hit the stage.

Fast forward a few years and the play is on tour and headed to New Orleans where I live. My husband surprised me with two tickets for Christmas and boy, was I excited.

An hour into the play and I realized how much Hamilton’s life was like my own. I too am in search of greatness or at least real goodness. I’m looking for ways to make a difference and leave a legacy. And most importantly, I’m trying…

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