A Lesson From Emma Dupree and the Granny Women Who Endure

Every week I will feature the kind of everyday heroes I look up to. They come from all walks of life, age groups and beliefs. I hope you’ll learn as much from them as I have!

Emma Dupree was born in the summer of 1897, on the Fourth of July, in North Carolina. She remained their for the rest of her life until her death in 1996. The child of slaves, Emma – like most African-Americans in her vicinity- was a farmer with her husband Austin Dupree Jr. However, from a young age Emma was pulled to a different vocation, one that was equally invaluable to those she aided: herbalism. Emma – known as a “granny woman” or healer – could look at a wound and know what plant would stop the spread of infection, she could ease the symptoms of a cold with a tonic. Paige Williams, who interviewed Emma in 1992,  wrote:

“Before her came African root doctors and Indian medicine men. People believed their mystical potions could cure body and soul and sometimes they could. Some modern medicines still use herbal derivatives.”

Emma said she was called to the woods at an early age, determined to learn from nature. I can’t say I have the same desire, (I hate bugs) but I admire her, nonetheless. She gave in to the knowledge of the natural world, carried on the lessons her ancestors passed down, and went about making others well. Emma was strong enough to do good in her community, without a degree or prestige, simply because it had to be done. Paige wrote that Emma was still lively during the interview, moving about with pep, stretching, and anxious to get to work. In reading, it’s hard to sense any worry for the end in Emma, only concern about the next batch of tonic.

Image by Anne McDonald

In reading about Emma I was reminded of a woman who has become something of a myth to me over the years. My grandmother, one of the great ones whose pictures are in sepia tones, lived well past 100 years. In fact, she was born a slave, but was still around to babysit my father. Can you imagine putting up with the nonsense of life for that long? Watching babies grow, leaders come in and out of fashion, laws being made and undone, people loving then marrying; I truly feel jealousy to think of the wonders she must have encountered. That jealousy is tempered by the knowledge she surely encountered hardship as well.

Her name was Edith, or Grandma Summerville, as my father calls her. He said he was afraid of her at first, because with a long nose and mole she resembled the evil queen in Disney’s Snow White. She was small, tiny even, standing around five feet. Luckily, his fears were unfounded, because she was the personification of kindness. She held my father when he was ill, told him stories to make him smile and maintained the stoic goodness of a warrior through tribulations. Edith raised her son – my great-great-grandfather – then his daughters when he and his wife Clara were taken by murder and childbirth. My great-grandmother Mary was one of those daughters. Mary’s daughter is my grandmother,and from her there’s my father. So many people Edith loved and cared for, with little more than the grit in her soul. I began re-evaluating whom I admire once I learned about the little lady who looked like a witch, but was kinder than an angel.

I started researching herbalism in the pursuit of gaining a better understanding of wellness and how we take care of one another. History is present in the ways we heal, who we turn to, and what we choose to take with us from the lesson. Learning of Emma got me thinking about what survives us, what’s left when all that was is dust. It’s our intentions and the outcome of our actions, however small, that will endure. I never met Edith or Emma, however the feeling of adoration is overwhelming. Two black women separated from us by time and space, who nevertheless inspire the strength to get on with the healing. Two little ladies who had no business being so unbreakable, so noble and good in a world designed to obstruct their survival. They did it; they lived and watched others do it, too.

“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” – Seneca

As you learn and grow today, remember Emma and maybe even think about my grandmother. Then, take heart that you can make it. Better yet? You deserve to.

Stay strong out there.

Three Star Wars Characters You Should Know

Every Friday I will feature the books, movies, TV shows, and other works of art that have been inspiring me.  Please share your suggestions below!

Happy Star Wars Day! I hope you’re outside playing with a lightsaber, pretending the whole midichlorian debacle never happened, which is exactly what I’ve been doing! To say Star Wars are a big part of my life would be the understatement of the century; my parents are two geeks with a deep love of that magical galaxy, so my youth was surrounded by images of Luke, Leia, Han and Yoda, with rarely a weekend devoid of a marathon. It was heaven for a little nerd like me! I’m so thankful the world is back on board with how cool the universe George Lucas created is.

As we gear up for the premiere of Solo: A Star Wars Story, I wanted to share three of my favorite Star Wars characters, outside of our original band of rebels (or bounty hunters if you’re a Boba Fett kind of girl).  They’ve become some of my most beloved side characters due to their moxie and strength.  If you’re not a huge Star Wars fans, don’t worry! I think the characters I’ve elected to share with you are great for learning more about the world. Let’s dive in!

 

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Sana Solo

Good old Han was a dirty dog long before he literally shot his way into our hearts. This cat not only stole and killed, but he also perpetrated a tiny bit of marriage fraud for a scheme. That’s where Sana comes in! Born on Nar Shaddaa, the smuggler worked her way up through the ranks in the criminal underworld until she ran into Han. They became partners, using a fake marriage to commit a robbery. However, Han betrayed Sana and ran off with her cut of the take! Now, I love Han, but he deserved the grief Sana would eventually put him through when she found him with Princess Leia. By that time, Leia had a huge bounty on her head, which Sana planned to make good on. Instead, she allowed them both to live. Sana isn’t a major character by any means, yet in her quick arch I saw someone I truly rooted for. Not only because she was done dirty by a man that couldn’t stay honest if you paid him, but because she was a survivor with a conscience. Add on the fact that she was one of few POC characters, smart, and funny and you’ve got a hero tailor-made for a girl like me. I truly hope they bring her back to cause some chaos in Han’s life on screen.

Quinlan Vos
Image via https://www.starwars.com/databank/quinlan-vos

Quinlan Vos

This guy is a complex, yet lovable character. Quinlan Vos became a Jedi Master and expert tracker, who could see the memories of others in objects they had once possessed. Cool, right? Quinlan Vos partnered with Obi-wan Kenobi on missions, becoming an invaluable asset to the Jedi Order. Eventually, Quinlan would be forced to go undercover with the Sith to determine the identity of their Sith Lord to stop the spread of evil in the universe. He fell in love, eventually coming to question the Jedi Laws and the grey area between light and dark. Quinlan Vos is a character that forces fans to revisit their own preconceptions about the Jedi, the Empire and what it takes to be a hero after you’ve crossed your own moral lines. If you want to know more about Quinlan’s story I highly recommend the book “Dark Disciple” by Christie Golden! 

 

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Image via http://star-wars-canon-extended.wikia.com/wiki/Shaak_Ti by Konami

Shaak Ti

I dare you to find a character more visually striking than Jedi Master Shaak Ti. She is regal to the extreme, yet deadly to anyone silly enough to challenge her. Contrary to what we saw in the films. here are a lot of female Jedi in the expanded Star Wars Universe. Shaak Ti represents that notion that female Jedi do in fact get to seize power among the ranks of your Yodas and your Kenobis. Shaak Ti was masterfully diplomatic – she ranked among the brightest leaders of the Jedi Council, opting to use her mind more often than her weapon. She was a force to be reckoned with in the struggle against light and dark.

 

I hope you enjoyed learning about these characters! Jump into the comments to tell me about your favorite characters or favorite things about Star Wars!

A Word With Derek Dixon

Every week I will feature the kind of everyday heroes I look up to. They come from all walks of life, age groups and beliefs. I hope you’ll learn as much from them as I have!

 

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have someone in their life who will tell them the truth. Not the mean truth or the nice truth, but the true-truth. The kind of honesty that’s delivered when you need to heal or laugh or come back down to Earth. Derek Dixon has been my truth-sayer and best friend for almost 20 years. Can you imagine putting up with anyone through adolescence, hormones, college and your 20’s without slapping them? Somehow we did just that! We met in middle school and have remained thick as thieves through the years due to Derek’s uncanny ability to fight for that brighter dawn. Plainly speaking, you just feel better when you’re in his company whether over the phone, or sharing a drink. I think you’re going to love what he was kind enough to share with us this week. Read below to find out why I admire this guy so much!

 

What is your profession? Is it what you wanted to do?

I am the Residential Director for a home-based care organization that provides services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Although this initially was not what I wanted to do, I have always felt a call to help others. I went to school for psychology and music with the hopes of becoming a musical therapist. I initially got into the field to show that I’ve had experience on a resume, but then fell in love.

If not, what would you like to do instead? Why?

I went to school for psychology and music with the hopes of becoming a musical therapist. I got into the HBCS field for experience, but then I fell in love with this very special population. I have so many dreams, but so little time – the crux of everyone. Ultimately, if I were to help one person live a bold life, full of confidence and self-love, then I would die a happy man.

 

What are some ways you take care of yourself?

I love to be outside. The warmth of the sun, a nice breeze, fishing pole, and cold beer can be so therapeutic. I also love quiet time to myself, doing things like reading, writing and meditation. They’re activities that help center me.

Can you share a time or event you didn’t think you could survive?

The death of my father when I was in third grade was hands-down the most traumatic event in my life. The lives of my entire family changed after that. There were lots of dark nights, angry days, misplaced blame and confusion after that. It was rough.

What/ Who pulled you through it? What did you learn?

My mother’s strength and drive definitely pulled me through. I almost lost her that same day. Watching the process of her rehabilitation and seeing her bounce back after so many counted her out was awe-inspiring, and it was the first time I realized I wanted to help others. Watching my mother fight so hard to get back to her children was the first time I witnessed the transformative power of love.

 

How did the event/time shape the way you live now?

That experience made me aware of my own mortality. I try to live life fully. When it comes to friendship and the people I surround myself with, I prefer quality over quantity. I love strongly, laugh loudly. I live life on my own terms, and although that itself can be a struggle, I love myself. I embrace all aspects of the person I have become. Now, no matter what struggle I am presented with, I know that I can handle it.

What was the best/ funniest/ most memorable piece of advice you’ve received?

I was blessed to be surrounded by so many strong women growing up. My grandmother was one of those people that didn’t know a stranger. She was everyone’s “Momma”, “Auntie” or “Granny” regardless of blood relation or not. She gave so freely. Witnessing the way she lived her life was not only beautiful, but a perfect example of how to treat people. She is who I learned my colorful language and take-no-shit attitude from. Lots of gems were learned from that beautiful soul.

When do you feel most free?

When in nature and when on stage. Theater and music used to be such a joy for me, but something I haven’t done in a while. I should change that.

 

What do you want to be remembered for?

For living my life to the fullest and inspiring boldness.

 

Thanks for reading kids! I hope Derek’s words will carry through the rest of the week with a smile and some fire!

We Need to Talk About Beyoncé

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The first time I was blown away by Beyoncé was in high school. She performed a medley of her solo songs on the MTV VMAs, descending from the ceiling upside down and singing with more power than most singers can muster rightside up. If ever there was a person born to sing and perform it was her. My friends and I tried to learn her “Crazy In Love” choreography (I still remember a few steps), but we couldn’t hit it like she could. It’s funny that all these years later Beyoncé still inspires imitation, however it’s in a way I hadn’t anticipated.

It was subtle in the beginning. The “Deja Vu” music video was set on a sprawling Southern plantation, where she performed an African dance – forgive me for not knowing the specific culture – in contrast to the history of murder and oppression intrinsic to the environment. Next, “Single Ladies” hit the scene, showcasing not only some serious Bob Fosse inspiration, but also three black women performing intricate choreography for the female gaze rather than male. I can’t think of anything like it before or since. Then “Grown Woman” popped up, which was a West African love-fest covered in resplendent ferocity. By the time the Lemonade album rolled around everyone should have known Beyoncé Giselle Knowles Carter is not interested in being remembered for vocal runs or her body. Rather, we’re witnessing an artist curating a record of her awakening to her inherent magic in an era that wishes to either drain it or erase it.

It all came to a head with her black-as-hell Super Bowl performance with Coldplay and Bruno Mars. Of course there were detractors. Folks who didn’t get it, and others who absolutely couldn’t handle the level of deliberate blackness Beyoncé was serving. I would wager a bet that Mrs. Carter learned something I am still coming to terms with: blackness is only acceptable when it’s easily digestible; when it makes you feel good, not when it makes you face our horrid history and current treatment. I would bet again that she stopped giving a damn about the feelings of the willfully ignorant.

Seeing Beyoncé, a beautiful woman with a radiant voice and oodles of money, be assaulted for publicly claiming her blackness has revealed a brutal yet necessary truth to me: no matter what you have, look like or do, there will always be people who want to see you fail if you challenge their world. They will rage against your joyful existence. There will surely be those lurking in the shadows whom will spring forth with glee in the event you miss a step, especially if you happen to be a person of color.

In between watching snippets of Beychella – the name her performance has rightfully garnered after rendering all other acts mute – I watched footage of two black men being arrested and removed from a Starbucks for merely existing in the space. The two gentleman had been waiting for a friend in a place that is advertised as a place to do just that. Thankfully, they had white allies in the space who spoke up, recorded the incident, and are now protesting, yet reading about the event juxtaposed against Bey’s performance was entirely too real. For years I tried to shrink myself, to appear less threatening in predominantly white spaces. I learned the skill – code switching – very early on. You keep your head down, make them laugh, maybe learn a country song all in an attempt to stay safe. But no amount of hiding will change the fact that black bodies, black folks, still aren’t seen as human. The two men hadn’t been trying to hide their blackness, they hadn’t done anything at all, but they still weren’t left alone to live in peace. It’s clear that we can’t escape from the realities of our existence. I have found that the markers of my identity( black, woman, descendant of slaves and immigrants) carry the kind of weight that doesn’t hold you down but strengthens your step. So, why hide it? Why relegate the power of your identity to the dark? No one is going to appreciate your facade more than your bold truth.

After the Beychella performance, I was overcome by the voices of people on Twitter talking about living their truth, giving themselves 110% , and being proud of what sets them apart from the crowd. That’s special. Not many people inspire those emotions, but here we are. I’m thankful for Beyoncé, because she makes me groove, feel, and dream about what my life can be if I’m true to myself in every way. The world isn’t kind to black folks, so we have to be good to ourselves. We also need allies lifting us up and protecting us, encouraging our risks and sheltering our rights.

Today I want to encourage you to live as you are in your heart. Don’t think about what other people are going to do or say, because you can’t make everyone happy. Some hate to see others make it, so be petty and make it. Make your life what you want it to be. Shout your truth. You never know who you might inspire.