Inspired by the Freedom of Afropunk Fest

Every year I look forward to seeing images from Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn. I believe the guests are hands-down the most stylish on the planet! Founded in 2005, the event offers people of color the space to express themselves without the binds of what they can or should be. As I travel forward on my journey to self-acceptance, I pull so much inspiration from the love and care displayed by the guests toward themselves. It is truly a radical act to like yourself enough to be who you want.

Black folks being “weird” and artistic and FREE is a mood we should all get behind. Here are some of my favorite images from this year’s fest. Enjoy!

All photos by Cheryl Dunn

 

 

 

 

 

Go check out more of these beautiful images over at The Cut!

The Catharsis of Loss

My grandmother died the Sunday before I moved across the country to begin a new life. I’d spent that day packing and loading a shipping container with my husband, parents, and brother, which was more fun that it had any right to be. Our raucous laughter shook the house we were leaving behind, rumbling out into the sleepy neighborhood. I’ve never had a day without joy when in their company, regardless of the weight of the world or the stress of boxing up your life to be replanted elsewhere. It was a joyful, yet bittersweet experience to share with my loved ones.

Once we’d finished with the house, leaving just what Mark and I would need to keep with us for the drive to California, we decided to go see a movie. We rushed to the theater, anticipation for popcorn and soda sky-high, anxious to have a respite from the heat and stress of moving. No more than five minutes after the movie began my father got the call. I don’t know that there are words to describe the loss of someone you care for, when it’s known they eventually have to pass on. Death is never expected when it enters your life, no matter how prepared you might be to let go. We left the movie in a general state of disbelief. My parents had spoken to her the day before. My brother, husband and I had laughed with her at my cousin’s wedding, but I still can’t remember what about.

Two weeks later my large extended family sat down to eat together after her memorial service, then descended into laughter. We teased one another, played with my cousin’s babies and shared stories in a sort of mad libs only close families can understand, picking up where others left off. I was struck by the realization that none of us were crying or down-trodden. The even was more of a party than anything, a potentially macabre celebration of a woman we all loved and lost.

Death is still a taboo subject for many people, but I don’t think it should be. Perhaps my mind is warped from being forced to confront how little control I have over the circumstances affecting my existence, but I believe the more we talk about a thing, the less said thing can break us down. The pain will still exist, however we might get up with more grace if we know how to move forward in a healthy way. My grandmother is gone, yes, but what she gave to me remains. I have her cheeks, her nose, the shape of her face, just like most of my cousins and aunts and uncles. We’re all stubborn as hell and never back down from a fight. Her death doesn’t have to be the end of the lessons she can teach us about who we are. In loss we are forced to confront the chasms separating us.

I’ve had quite a lot of time to turn over the feelings swirling in my chest: surprise, fear, sadness. The one that I’ve returned to the most is a sense of relief. The emotion isn’t tied to wanting her gone; I feel relief that my grandmother no longer has to feel pain. I feel relief that she got to meet so many great-grandchildren. Most of all I feel relief that she is with her own beloved mother again in a place that may or may not exist, but nonetheless removed from our perception. In loss we are forced to confront the chasms separating us. We get to choose whether or not to build bridges, who we want to move on with or leave behind. So, I feel relief that even without the maternal glue of my grandmother my family remained whole; that is where the peace is, the release of my fears.

I believe the real weight of losing someone is tied to the fights we will never get to have and the opportunities for growth we were robbed of. I didn’t cry during the ceremony, and I noticed few of us did. When the tears began to well up, I stopped them with a vengeance, because it didn’t feel right to cry. I didn’t understand why until I came across this quote by Harriet Beecher Stowe:

“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”

My grandmother never left us to wonder how she felt, whether good or bad. Regret didn’t exist in her world. She was a woman of her word, and she passed that on to her descendants. She knew that when she was gone we would have to find peace in one another, but you can’t do that if you hide pieces of yourself. If I feel any sorrow, it is that my grandmother and I will never again be able to forge new paths together. Yet, I choose to focus on the paths we did carve out, the fights we did have and the growth those rows fostered. All in all, I have no regrets with my grandmother. If I did, I would have to find a way to make peace with them and make sure that I have nothing to regret with those loved ones I have left.

No matter how far I creep away from the staid Methodist teachings of my youth, I always return to the belief – the desire – that the end is worth the race. However, now I’m beginning to rethink the type of race we’re running. Perhaps it’s something more akin to a relay than a straight up sprint. We pick up people along the way, trade stories, pass on pieces of ourselves, then hand over the baton. My grandmother’s passing has created a new spot on the team, a void in my heart for others to occupy, but I’ll never forget how well she lived.

 

 

It’s OK To Be Happy

My mother excitedly shook me awake at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning with more enthusiasm than she had any right to muster. I immediately started questioning every choice leading me up to that painful moment, because I’m well past the age of being able to do anything before 7 a.m. or after midnight. After a few groans, I rolled out of the bed I used to sleep in every night until I left for college, shuffled into the bathroom I knew like the back of my hand, then plopped onto the spot on their couch I’d claimed back when my brother and I would fight at the drop of a hat. You might be wondering why a (seemingly) intelligent woman like myself would subject herself to physical anguish and mental torment. Well, the answer is quite simple: The Royal Wedding.

As I mentioned recently, my mother and I are romantics – the kind who coo and melt at displays of affection, watch rom-coms on repeat, and read emotional drivel like our lives depend on it. I hate us while loving us, even more so as we watched Anderson Cooper build up the arrival of celebrity guests and a wedding dress like it was the moon landing. We passed mini pigs in a blanket and mini cupcakes between us that had been provided by my long-suffering father, and sipped on sparkling grape juice. Within thirty minutes I was awake enough to be excited for the pageantry, and I was soon enthralled by the magic of the music, location, guest list, and their love. Just take a listen to this beautiful music played by cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and try not to feel something!

Still,  I couldn’t ignore a feeling of guilt floating in my belly, one I often get when I’m happy. With the world on fire around us, children being gunned down, people of color being subjected to racist vitriol and women’s lives regularly terrorized, I often feel like my happiness is unwarranted. My past isn’t perfect, but I currently live in a state of security. I have love. I know peace more often than torment, and my water is clean. Not many people can wake up with their only worries being what to wear or what to put into their smoothies. So, I regularly get that twinge in my neck when I laugh too loud. My body jolts itself out of the reverie, because there’s still so much work left to do.

As a survivor, my guilt has another level I’m only just now uncovering, but one that has nevertheless been ever-present. Essentially, I have a form of survivor’s guilt, but for the little girl I was that had to die so that I could survive. I felt guilty for experiencing happiness when I was the only one who knew what she went through. For years I’ve been mourning her passing and in the process became a monument to her rather than an individual. In my quest to reshape my life as I see fit, I’m finally ready to say enough is enough.

I know I’ve been a proponent of not avoiding conflict in the pursuit of comfort, and I always will be, because living life as a well-rounded person requires both eyes being open. However, I can’t neglect to add the truth that we do indeed deserve our happiness. There was a moment – rather a sermon- during the wedding that made my brain snap awake in regard to this.

I’m not a particularly religious person, but I don’t think you have to be a Theologian to believe what Bishop Curry was saying. My journey has taught me a wonderful lesson that I have to work on remembering when I’m feeling guilty for needing joy during these dark days in the world: my happiness honors the little girl I was. By living, working, going on adventures, bringing joy to others and sharing in theirs I take back what was taken. In loving myself, I’m learning how to love other people. Besides, I’ve found that nothing pisses off bigots, misogynists, and tyrants more than oppressed people joyously taking care of themselves

Above all things, I want to be a good person, a worthy ally, and someone others remember fondly. To that end, I will be happy as long as I have room to feel it. You deserve to be happy, too. I hope you’ll let yourself experience joy this week while also fighting for what’s right in whatever way you can.  As always, thank you for taking this journey with me.

 

“Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives. And it can change the world.” Bishop Michael Curry

Just A List Of Things That Made Me Smile Today

Do you ever experience those days (weeks, months) that seem to have one purpose and one purpose alone – the destruction of your will? Wednesdays do that to me; it’s the middle of the week, and I’m usually too exhausted to find the joy in being closer to Friday. I’ve been feeling like burrowing into my sheets for 1-2 years, so today I kicked my mental self-care into high-gear by looking at beautiful things, reading good news, and sharing time with people who just get me. Here’s a list of some of the things that made me think twice about never leaving the warmth and safety of my bed.

Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder are doing a rom-com (!!)

These two are in most of favorite movies From my younger years- Edward Scissorhands, Mermaids, The Matrix, Speed – including starring together in one of my all-time faves Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola. So, finding out that they’re going to be doing a cheesy movie about hating each other, then (undoubtedly) falling for one another is what I am genetically here for. Here’s the trailer. Drool with me.

Don’t even judge me for being into their predictable personalities and one-liners!

 

Savage x Fenty Lingerie is inclusive

Robin Rihanna Fenty is a force to be reckoned with. Not only does this unfairly gorgeous woman have a music career to die for, but she’s got her foot on the necks of fashionistas around the globe. It just seemed inevitable that she would dip into the world of makeup.    Now, she’s set her sights on clothing with her new lingerie line. What I , and others, loved about Fenty Beauty was how she worked to represent every shade for people. That seems like the natural course to take, however you’d be surprised how many shades of beige exist next to our 3 options for women of color. I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover Savage x Fenty would come in many shades of nude and larger sizes. Rihanna is setting a business model that the world had better catch up to.

rihanna goddess GIF by Grande Dame

 

Net Neutrality is Safe

A win for common sense. There’s not much more I need to say.

 

This dog

dog costume GIF by Shark Tank

How are your surviving this week? What helps you feel better when your strength needs boosting?