Father. Dad. Daddy. Papa. Pop. There are many different words we use to define one of the most important men in our lives. More than the disciplinarian. More than the one that wore hats and ties. More than “the fixer.” Along with mom, he’s the one who taught you how to be you…and as well as the true value of being you.
Black men, we celebrate you. Not just on Father’s Day, but every day. Here’s some of the things the precious men in our lives have taught us…
Be yourself. It’s up to you to define who you are. Don’t let anyone tell you what specific things you can or can’t do because you’re a man or a woman. If you want to be a surgeon, go for it. If you want to cook, cook. If you want to build something, be careful and don’t hit your finger with the hammer. If something needs to be cleaned, clean. Do you.
Handle your business, no excuses, no explanations. Being a truly great human being can mean many things, but having excuses is not one of them. Always be responsible.
Give and it shall be given. You need to be resourceful, and one of the most valuable resources are people. Rewarding people what they’re worth is key.
Try. Try. Try. It’s not always easy, but don’t give up doing the things you love to do. As long as you’re not hurting anyone, follow your heart and take pride in doing the things that bring you joy.
There is great value in a hard day’s work. Many children remember their fathers getting up early, working 6 days a week, always taking great pride in making a living. Years later, these are the children that rarely complain when they’re at work…because they remember that Dad always worked harder.
Education is key. You cannot put a price tag on a good education. Don’t settle for anything less than this. It’s something that no one can ever take away from you.
Be there for your children. Of all the things that kids remember the most about their fathers, things like money and fancy gifts aren’t generally at the top of the list. More valuable to them are those times Dad took them to the park, taught them something new, or simply took the time to spend some time with them.
It’s never too late to do what you want to do. Always try your very best to follow your heart and your dreams. Maybe it’ll hit you later in life what you really want to do. There’s nothing wrong with this. Just make sure you go for it.
Procrastination is a thief of time. Why put it off tomorrow? That is, unless you happen to have a time machine.
Having God on your team means you have the greatest teammate. No matter how tough life gets, having a relationship with God can help move mountains.
Have fun, go out…but not every night. Going out with friends and having fun is great. But don’t…
… be that guy/girl that’s out every single night. You’ll save money, people will have a better opinion of you, and when you do go out, those times will feel more special and you’re more likely to have more fun.
Always put something away for a rainy day. Save, save, save. Don’t just spend everything. There will come a time when you will be thankful that you did.
Never forget the beauty of being a kid. Things like working and saving money are essential and important things. But so is keeping a tight hold on your sense of fun, not taking yourself too seriously, and never losing the ability to just let go and be silly sometimes.
Three graduates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are bringing a stylish take to a trendy craft beer bar in New York’s historic Harlem neighborhood. On June 9, owners Kevin Bradford, Kim Harris and Stacey Lee officially opened the doors of Harlem Hops to the public, making the establishment the first craft beer bar in Harlem to be 100 percent owned by African-Americans.
Harlem Hops sits nestled in the heart of Harlem at 2268 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd., a bustling street alive with independently owned businesses, convenient stores, curious neighbors and schoolchildren counting down the days until summer vacation begins. Walking into the bar gives the feel of everything Harlem embodies: a cozy, close-knit community where everyone is welcome.
“We want Harlem Hops to be Cheers for a lot of people in the neighborhood,” Harris said. “We want it to be the safe haven where you can just come and learn about something different.”
The vision of Harlem Hops began for Harris, a graduate of Clark Atlanta University, nearly five years ago. Born and raised in Harlem, Harris appreciated her neighborhood, but good beer was hard to find. Her quests to drink beer she enjoyed included traveling to Brooklyn to get it.
“I thought, there’s something missing here,” Harris said. “And that’s when it came to me that we should do a beer bar in Harlem. That’s was one of the reasons I thought about it.”
At the time, Harris had been in what she described as a distressed partnership with another business. But upon meeting with restaurant consultant Jason Wallace, Harris learned there was another entrepreneur who shared a similar vision for a craft beer bar. Bradford, a graduate of Hampton University, had the same problems as Harris when it came to finding good beer. Originally from Detroit, Bradford would find himself bringing beer back from his hometown to New York.
“I like good beer, and I couldn’t really find good beer above 125th. To tell you the truth, even above 110th,” Bradford said. “I had to travel to Brooklyn. I had to travel these far distances to get beer I liked. I think back in 2011 or 2012, New York was not really the beer center of the East Coast. Now, New York is pretty much on the map for craft beer. I live in Harlem and I wanted to open a bar in my neighborhood, but the zoning was residential. I could not have a commercial space in my property. That’s when Jason Wallace introduced myself and Kim and I was like, this is it.”
The two met near the end of 2016 and agreed that they could make the partnership work. Harris also ran her ideas past Lee, a fellow graduate of Clark Atlanta University and a trusted entrepreneur Harris had worked with in the past. Lee was more than happy to hop aboard and invest in the business.
“When Stacey came on board, she kind of made us whole in terms of all the bits and pieces,” Harris said. “I have business sense, Kevin is focused on the beer and Stacey brings in the creativity and helps me keep my thoughts together. We’re all married to each other. We love each other. It’s the perfect combination.”
Before long, ideas and concepts of what Harlem Hops could and should be began to fly. The three worked feverishly together to figure out everything from color schemes to beer to food menus. For decor, the group enlisted the help of designers. Matte black and copper would serve as the theme throughout the bar, and Harlem — whether it was in words, light-up messages or a marquee hanging from the ceiling — would be fully represented.
“Luckily, we all had the same style,” Harris said. “We wanted clean lines. We wanted something simple. Something that was a combination of typical beer, but Harlem. Harlem is high-end and upscale, and that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to bring in some industrial aspects of a beer bar, but we wanted to make it sexy for everybody.”
OAKLAND, Calif. — Even by the standards of the Bay Area, where sourcing local, organic chicken feed is seen as something of a political act, the spectacle of 30,000 fruit and nut trees being tended by formerly incarcerated orchardists is novel.
The green thumbs are there because of Planting Justice, a nine-year-old nonprofit that combines urban farming with environmental education and jobs for ex-offenders. From its headquarters in a pair of salvaged shipping containers on a dead-end street in East Oakland, Calif., Planting Justice has forged a trail in which revenue-generating businesses help subsidize the group’s core mission: hiring former inmates, many from nearby San Quentin State Prison, and giving them a “family sustaining” wage, along with health benefits and a month of paid leave annually. About half the total staff of 30 have served time in prison.
Two years ago, the group’s founders — Gavin Raders, 35, and Haleh Zandi, 34 — established an orchard on a weedy, vacant lot in this area of stubborn poverty, where the pruning is serenaded not by birds but droning trucks from the adjacent freeway. Planting Justice’s Rolling River Nursery now sells and ships some 1,100 varieties of potted trees and plants — among them, 65 different kinds of pomegranates, 60 varieties of figs, and loads of harder-to-find species such as jujubes (Chinese dates), Japanese ume plums and rue, an aromatic herb used in Ethiopian coffee. Signs warn visitors that they have entered a pesticide- and soda-free zone.
Though still young, the organic orchard generates roughly $250,000 of Planting Justice’s yearly $2 million operating budget. Another $250,000 comes from an edible landscaping business, in which roving horticulturalists hired by well-off clients install beehives, fruit trees, chicken coops, massive barrels for harvesting rain water and “laundry to landscaping” systems that funnel used washing machine water into the garden. The money helps subsidize pro bono edible landscapes in low-income neighborhoods.
In addition, there are the 2,000 or so “subscribers” who make monthly pledges to Planting Justice, which brings in another $450,000 annually, and grants from a variety of nonprofit organizations, among them the Kresge FreshLo program, the Thomas J. Long Foundation and Kaiser Permanente’s community benefit programs.
Planting Justice cultivates metaphors along with the food. “We’re composting and weeding the things in our lives we don’t need and fertilizing the parts of ourselves we do need,” Mr. Raders explained, sitting on a eucalyptus stump.
A coat of arms created for the Duchess of Sussex that reflects her Californian background has been unveiled. It includes a shield containing the color blue, representing the Pacific Ocean, and rays, symbolising sunshine. The duchess worked closely with the College of Arms in London to create the design, Kensington Palace said. The lion supporting the shield relates to her husband, the Duke of Sussex, and dates back to the House of Stuart’s ascent to the throne in 1603.
The songbird supporting the shield on the right relates to the Duchess of Sussex. Traditionally wives of members of the Royal Family have two – one of their husband’s supporters on the shield and one relating to themselves. Beneath the shield is California’s state flower – the golden poppy – and Wintersweet, a flower that grows at Kensington Palace and was also depicted on the duchess’ wedding veil. The three quills illustrate the power of words and communication.
The duchess has also been assigned a coronet bearing fleurs-de-lys and strawberry leaves.
Garter King of Arms Thomas Woodcock, who is based at the College of Arms said: “The Duchess of Sussex took a great interest in the design. Good heraldic design is nearly always simple and the Arms of The Duchess of Sussex stand well beside the historic beauty of the quartered British Royal Arms.”
“Heraldry as a means of identification has flourished in Europe for almost nine hundred years and is associated with both individual people and great corporate bodies such as cities, universities and, for instance, the livery companies in the City of London.”
Coats of arms date back to 12th Century and were traditionally worn over armour in tournaments so participants could identify their opponents.
Good Black News joins in the honoring and remembrance of the women who gave us life, nurtured and raised us, and also offered us solace, counsel and wisdom. To all the mothers out there – be they Aunties, Grandmothers, Cousins or Friends – thank you for all you do! Happy Mother’s Day!
It’s a foggy spring night in Paris, and Rihanna has just wrapped up a meeting with her accountant in the penthouse suite of the Four Seasons hotel, a place that will serve as her makeshift office for the next few days. The evening panorama from the terrace is about as picture-postcard pretty as Paris gets, though at this late hour the lights on the Eiffel Tower have long since gone out. Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty is a night owl. Her most intense bouts of creativity often come after midnight, a rhythm she picked up early in her music career. In the dark, soundproofed environment of a recording studio, time is elastic. And when you’re Rihanna, and the world is your oyster, then time is really elastic. It’s perhaps why she doesn’t seem particularly bothered that today’s to-do list is far from done. There is a stack of Fenty Beauty campaign printouts piled high on her desk awaiting her approval; a flood of unanswered emails from Fenty team members in various time zones, all happily waiting on her too. Right now, though, there is a more pressing issue on the agenda, one that demands her full attention: Rihanna has decided that it’s time to fix my love life.
“So wait, you’re on a dating app? You don’t seem like the dating-app type,” she says as her almond-shaped green eyes peer into my iPhone. “Come sit here; you gotta teach me how to do this swipe thing.” Rihanna is all curled up in a cozy hotel bathrobe and has a pair of comfy Fenty Puma slides on her feet, and yet she radiates flawless glamour—hair tousled in loose waves, skin luminous. Though I have taken great pains to put together what I think is a Rihanna-worthy look—Jacquemus blouse, vintage Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo pants—it’s hard not to feel like a tarnished penny next to a freshly minted gold coin as I sidle up to her on the sofa. Rihanna asks if she can take a look through the photos on my app, and I oblige. “What is that dress? Is that vintage Jean Paul Gaultier?” she asks, pausing on my profile picture, a bathroom selfie taken in a swanky Hollywood hotel. “You better werk, girl; you look gorgeous!” I do my best to play it cool, but the little fangirl inside me is freaking out. Hanging out with Rihanna is every bit as fun as her costars in the upcoming Ocean’s 8 movie make it sound: You know you’re in the presence of a superstar, but it’s like you’re chatting with an old friend. “It’s a combination of being starstruck and being immediately put at ease,” explains Sandra Bullock. “She also has this warmth, and when she shines it on you, it makes you feel pretty damn amazing!”
Before long, we’re on the hunt for potential suitors. “This guy is too pretty—if you’re pretty, you at least gotta have wrinkles,” Rihanna says, sizing up a male-model type who’s posing bare-chested on a surfboard. And so we’re on to the next. “OK, and this one is giving me Charlie Manson. No?” I nod in agreement; psychopaths are not an option. After swiping through a dozen profiles or more, she lands on a good one. “Now, this is your type!” she says. She’s not wrong: This man is scruffy but handsome, age appropriate (36), and appears to be gainfully employed (an actor, not my first choice, but hey, nobody’s perfect). “He looks smart, he’s British, and he’s got edges!” (Translation: He’s got all his own hair.) She swipes right, and a message pops up almost instantaneously on the screen: It’s a match! We both throw our heads back and start screaming with laughter.
But don’t be fooled: The giddy highs and lows of singledom are fast becoming a distant memory for Rihanna. Right now, she’s in a relationship. “I used to feel guilty about taking personal time,” she says, “but I also think I never met someone who was worth it before.” Though she’s reluctant to talk about her partner by name, rumors have been swirling around her connection to Hassan Jameel, a young Saudi businessman, since paparazzi photos of her vacationing with a handsome stranger in Spain made the rounds last summer. These recent romantic developments are, however, part of a much bigger sea change for Rihanna, who turned 30 this year. For the first time in her life, she’s fully committed to a healthy work-life balance. “Even mentally, just to be away from my phone, to be in the moment, that has been key for my growth,” she says. “Now, when I come to work, I’m all in. Because before you know it, the years will go by. I’m glad I’m taking the time. I’m happy.”
On the heels of the insanity of making a blockbuster movie, Rihanna somehow managed to launch Fenty Beauty in collaboration with Kendo, LVMH’s incubator for cool new makeup brands, last September. Leading with a range of foundations that cover a full spectrum of skin tones (there are 40 different shades), the brand shook up the beauty industry in ways few currently within it could have predicted, prompting a broader conversation about inclusivity that had long been ignored. The success of her cosmetics line was unprecedented, reportedly racking up a staggering $100 million in sales within 40 days. The wait lists at certain makeup counters continued for months. (I was among hundreds of women who lined up outside Harvey Nichols in London last fall, only to find that my shade had already sold out.)
Rihanna was initially taken aback by the response. She had grown up watching her mother apply makeup, so thinking about foundations for darker skin tones came naturally. “As a black woman, I could not live with myself if I didn’t do that,” she says. “But what I didn’t anticipate was the way people would get emotional about finding their complexion on the shelf, that this would be a groundbreaking moment.” She’s taken the same approach with Savage X Fenty, her direct-to-consumer lingerie line in partnership with online retail giant TechStyle launching May 11th, offering a range of nude underwear that goes far beyond the bog-standard beige T-shirt bra. She’s not alone in questioning the limited notion of “nude”: Kanye West’s debut fall 2015 Yeezy collection featured a diverse cast of models in flesh-toned looks that encompassed a wide range of colors, from palest white to richest brown. Now Rihanna is pushing that idea one step further, shedding light on the frustrations that many black women face in dressing their bodies at the most intimate level. She has said in the past that her biggest regret about the sheer Adam Selman dress she wore to the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awardswas that she didn’t throw on a bedazzled thong, mostly because the nude undies she ended up in weren’t the right match—“not my nude,” as she points out.
It should go without saying that the new line will carry a body-positive message, too. Rihanna’s lingerie models come in all shapes and sizes; they are real women with real bodies who stand as a refreshing counterpoint to the impossible supermodel dimensions that have defined the look of lingerie for decades. Like Gigi Hadid and Serena Williams, Rihanna has been the target of body-shaming internet trolls. Her public responses have been rare, but when she does brush off the haters it’s usually done with a razor-sharp dose of wit: Last summer she posted a hilarious before-and-after weight-loss meme of the rapper Gucci Mane, a tongue-in-cheek nod to her own fluctuations on the scale. Because what could be more sexy than a sense of humor? “You’ve just got to laugh at yourself, honestly. I mean, I know when I’m having a fat day and when I’ve lost weight. I accept all of the bodies,” she says, shrugging her shoulders. “I’m not built like a Victoria’s Secret girl, and I still feel very beautiful and confident in my lingerie.”
by VANESSA FRIEDMAN and ELIZABETH PATON via nytimes.com
Virgil Abloh, the founder of the haute street wear label Off-White and a longtime creative director for Kanye West, will be the next artistic director of men’s wear at Louis Vuitton, one of the oldest and most powerful European houses in the luxury business. He becomes Louis Vuitton’s first African-American artistic director, and one of the few black designers at the top of a French heritage house. Olivier Rousteing is the creative director of Balmain, and Ozwald Boateng, from Britain, was the designer for Givenchy men’s wear from 2003 to 2007.
“I feel elated,” Mr. Abloh said via phone on Sunday, adding that he planned to relocate his family to Paris to take the job at the largest brand in the stable of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury group. “This opportunity to think through what the next chapter of design and luxury will mean at a brand that represents the pinnacle of luxury was always a goal in my wildest dreams. And to show a younger generation that there is no one way anyone in this kind of position has to look is a fantastically modern spirit in which to start.”
The appointment, widely rumored in recent months, is part of a shake-up on the men’s wear side of LVMH, which began in January with the departure of Kim Jones, Mr. Abloh’s predecessor at Louis Vuitton. Last week, it was announced that Mr. Jones would become the men’s wear designer at LVMH stablemate Christian Dior, replacing Kris van Assche.
Mr. Abloh’s appointment is also a reflection of the increasing consumer-driven intermingling of the luxury and street wear sectors, which helped boost global sales of luxury personal goods by 5 percent last year to an estimated 263 billion euros (about $325 billion in today’s dollars), according to a recent study by the global consulting firm Bain & Company. And it is an acknowledgment on the part of the luxury industry that it must respond to contemporary culture in new ways.
Many — perhaps most — African Americans can trace family roots back to Charleston. About 40 percent of enslaved Africans brought to North America arrived on ships that docked in Charleston Harbor.
Slaves then were sold to plantation owners throughout the Antebellum South. During the “Great Migration,” about 6 million blacks moved from the South to the Northeast, Midwest and West between 1916 and 1970, chastened by the ghosts of their oppressed ancestors and motivated by the prospect of a better life.
On the cusp of the Civil War, the U.S. was home to 4 million slaves, 400,000 of whom lived in South Carolina. Their labor created enormous wealth for white rice and cotton planters, and it built whole cities, including Charleston.
Now, 50 years since the death of Martin Luther King Jr., the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission has named 10 top black history sites to visit in the state, including several associated with King and the civil rights movement. The commission also has compiled a much larger list of about 300 sites for its new online travel guide, Green Book of South Carolina (www.GreenBookofSC.com).
Dawn Dawson-House, an ex officio board member who works for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said the initiative is meant to raise awareness of black history and to assist the commission’s efforts to identify, preserve, mark and protect the state’s many sites connected to black history and heritage.
“In the past 24 years, more than 200 markers have been added to the official state markers program,” Dawson-House said. “When the commission started, there were only about 35 markers dedicated to black history.”
She said historical sites can be found throughout the state, and many local people know about the ones near them.
“No matter where you are in South Carolina, there is an important African-American heritage element or place to visit,” Dawson-House said. “But the entire story is not told collectively. It’s told in bits and pieces in everybody’s community. At the commission we’ve decided we have to pull together an entire portrait of this history.”
Michael Allen, a founding board member of the commission, said the Green Book — “a manifestation of out 24-year journey” meant to assist anyone interested in black history — is a reference to the Jim Crow-era guide that African Americans used when traveling through the South. The old guide provided information about black-owned businesses (gas stations, hotels, restaurants, hospitals) that were safe for black travelers during the period of legal segregation.
“When you went traveling some place, you cooked your food, packed your food, the food was in your car,” Allen said. “You planned visits according to where relatives lived, or drove straight to where you needed to be.”
#AskMe Tees are the brainchild of Washington D.C. entrepreneur Ayanna Smith. Ayanna has created a timely remix of the slogan tee – and we love it! These T-shirts encourage people, friends and strangers alike, to talk to each other by offering intriguing questions as conversation starters.
It’s a clever concept. #AskMe Tees promote listening and discussion in an age where it has become increasingly common for people to dismiss each other or make unfounded assumptions. The #AskMe Tees (and other #AskMe accessories) are emblazoned with light-hearted questions such as #AskMe who made the potato salad and #AskMe about my superpowers to other more provocative and socially-conscious questions like #AskMe Why Black Lives Matter, #AskMe why I voted for him, and #AskMe about autism… don’t assume. Whichever #AskMe Tee you choose, remember to be ready for a conversation!
Ever since I was four years old, I remember feeling powerless. I didn’t know it by name then, but looking back, powerlessness is what drove me every night, after I slid under my Raggedy Ann sheets and comforter, to wish and pray that when I woke up, I’d wake up a boy. Not because I felt like a boy inside, but because boys got to have what I couldn’t. Hair that didn’t have to be detangled or combed or braided. Action figures instead of dolls. Race cars with race tracks and pants to play in—always pants. In my four-year-old mind, boys had everything. Freedom. Choices. Power. Pants. But every morning like clockwork, the sun rose, I looked down, and I was denied yet again by The Man Upstairs. I was still Team Pink. I was still a girl.
I wore my disappointment more stoically than my dresses, because somehow I knew this was not a conversation to be had with either parent, or even my big sister (who was obsessed with boys in the acceptable way—with crushes and smiles and day dates to ice skating shows). I didn’t know how to voice the palpable inequity I was absorbing from our society, my culture, the media. That boys were considered the stronger, smarter, faster sex, who should be deferred to and in control. What I couldn’t find words for, but knew from the tips of my bobble ball hair ties to the soles of my patent leather Mary Janes, was that the way girls were devalued wasn’t fair, square or remotely close to justified.
Girls were just as smart and fast and valuable as boys—and once in a while, in between ads for EZ bake ovens and hungry toy babies and household products that would save me from a lifetime of dishpan hands, my TV echoed parts of this truth to me. I saw the “Bionic Woman” and “Wonder Woman” and Billie Jean King with the big glasses and small tennis racket beat the old, blustering Bobby guy in “The Battle of the Sexes.” And then there was Nadia from Romania who proved her ability at the Montreal Olympics, though her dainty and pretty were remarked upon more often than her athleticism and artistry. Even after her repeated displays of superlativeness, she stood there, half-smiling, as they gave most of the credit to her male coach. They might not have been black like me but they were girls like me, girls who liked to rip and run and use their bodies and brains for something other than to attract boys.
In my home, the messages were similarly mixed. My mom had a job just like my dad did. And as a teacher, when I went to work with her, I got to see a woman in charge. Of the space, the lessons, the students. I saw her leadership there, as well as in the house. Mom had as much authority as Dad (if not more) and my dad did the cooking. And since both parents were college graduates and educators, my sister and I were expected to do well in school, go to college and have a career.
Mom even gave my sister and me “School Years” memory books so we could track our progress from Kindergarten through High School. Who our friends and teachers were, our activities, awards, and what we wanted to be when we grew up. This aid to success ended up being one of the most painful reminders of the limited expectations the world had for me. The occupations listed for “Boys”? Policeman, Fireman, Astronaut, Soldier, Cowboy, Baseball Player. But for “Girls”? Mother, Nurse, School Teacher, Airline Hostess, Model, Secretary. In that order.
There was a “fill in the blank” space, so every year from Kinder on I filled it in with “Doctor.” By third grade, someone with a pink marker lined through my “Doctor” and checked “Secretary” instead. I rebelled with my blue marker and rubbed over the pink check next to “Secretary.” I didn’t remember this until I recently found the book, but it spoke volumes that someone in my life thought I was fantasizing if I wanted to be a doctor. In 1976. The same year of the U.S. Bicentennial, 200 years after independence from tyranny was declared and where colonists believed their liberty was worth their death. I, too, was fighting for liberty. My liberty. I wanted Batman, not Barbie, and I was tired of feeling wrong about it.
Years pass, and compliments about my cuteness are directed to me instead of my parents. I didn’t do anything to be cute—DNA did that—so this always feels weird. My mum tells me to not question or argue but just say “thank you.” Dutifully, I do. But being valued solely this way never sits right with me. I wanted “boy-style” compliments, about how clever or strong or skilled at whatever I was—praise that felt earned. I did receive some of this from the adults in my life, right alongside advice like, “Always have bus money so you don’t have to depend on boys for rides,” or, “No one buys the cow if the milk is free,” or, “It’s just as easy to marry a rich man as it is a poor one.”
When my parents separate and divorce, this family fracture ironically gets me more of what I want. Guilt presents include video games and model cars and Star Wars toys. And pants—jeans and corduroys! My mom says when she was younger, she was a tomboy too. She enrolls my sister (and eventually me) in softball, and buys me books about skateboarding but stops short of the skateboard—she thinks I will fall and break my head. If I were a boy, I think, she’d let me break my head. I try to build my own with a plank of wood and wheels from Mom’s ancient metal roller skates. It travels six inches, I fall off and it falls apart. When my dad gets a housekeeper for his new townhouse, she cleans my room and asks him how old his son is. Suddenly Dad won’t buy me any more model cars.
As puberty dawns, boys are still getting the better deal. Most of them grow into muscles and height and undeniable physical dominance. But should this give them more rights? Should more strength automatically equal more power? Boys (and several girls) seem to think so and this thinking is validated at every turn. In government, in movies, in the workplace, in classrooms. They can pick up girls at random and the girls squeal and laugh and cajole the boys to put them down instead of throwing them into the ocean/pool/sofa cushions. All in good fun, right? Not at all a display or reminder of dominance, right? Boys get to act on crushes and initiate kisses and ask for dates without being considered “fast” or “sluts” or “whores.” They also get no periods, no pregnancies, no abortions.
I am handed deodorant, pads and Judy Blume books as my teenage girl starter kit. I dislike the changes and growing pains and expectations of “blossoming into a young woman.” I focus on grades instead of gregariousness—studying instead of a social life. My big sister Lesa, a natural at young womanhood, follows in our grandmother and mother’s kick steps and becomes a varsity cheerleader. I scoff and diminish her choice by saying I’d rather be who people cheer for. Because some girls make fun of other girls for being too “girly.” I do not see the insidious danger of this for decades.
By 1986 I am a senior in high school, and being in the “smart girl” category has been a boon for me. I am not offered a cent for a cute outfit or a good hair day, but Dad pays good money for As and Bs. I also get to wear pants and sneakers and no make up everyday and no one cares. Mom and Lesa are officially the “pretty girls” with pretty power and that is alright by me. I have no jealousy or longing for “pretty” status— though most girls aspire to this, it seems more like a curse than a gift to me. Yes, my mother and sister get preferential treatment and constant compliments, which they enjoy. But I also see them experience the flip side. Men and boys would stalk them both. Put their hands on them without permission. Recklessly follow after them in traffic. This was weekly if not daily for them; for me it was rarely, but it should have been never. It should always be never. But as 99 percent of girls and women will tell you, it’s never never. I am approached by a pimp on a bus who tells me I look sad and he can take care of me. I exit at the next stop and walk the extra mile home to escape him. I am told to smile more times than I am asked for my opinion. One afternoon I’m followed by a man who screams I should be walking behind him and don’t know my place. I run into a 7-11 and stay huddled near the Ms. Pacman machine until he disappears. Oh hell no. Screw being treated like prey. Screw pretty.
Instead I want to be strong and quick. And thanks to Title IX, I can put my body in service to sports—softball, basketball, cross country. I do them all and excel at none. I am average in every way, but the existence of these girls’ teams does not live or die by any one of us having to prove exceptional ability. We have the freedom to suck and stay funded, just like the boys’ teams. This makes me wonder if society needs a version of Title IX not just for the sports field, but for every field. Shouldn’t we demand and legislate programs that provide equal opportunity for both sexes everywhere? So then over time, like with sports, this parity would become the norm? Why not try this out in politics, I think—like maybe in the Senate? After all, there are 100 senators, two from each state, so why not make them 50:50, one male and one female? Wouldn’t that be true equal representation? But I don’t know what to do with these notions, so I keep them to myself. What kind of power do I have to make them happen, anyway? I don’t my want my “smart girl” rep to become a “naive, silly, pie-in-the-sky girl” rep.
High school also offers me a lifelong mentor in the unlikely form of tough-as-nails, no nonsense, AP U.S. history teacher Mr. Safier. He values effort, intelligence and discipline above gender, race, class… or anything else, really. Finally I am celebrated for what I believe counts. Safier is more than safe harbor. He is an equalizer. After repeatedly killing it in his classes, one boy writes in my senior yearbook he’s lived in academic fear of me for almost two years. I love this. Now I have proof. Brains are my field-levelling power. And they are what get me into a top-notch university.
At first, college feels different than high school—better—like there is gender parity. Like “smart” is all that matters. Smart whomevers travel to Boston from wherever to spend four focused years getting smarter. But then the parties start. The blue lights, safety phones and shuttle bus stops are pointed out. Boys casually notice, girls mark their maps. We have political debates. Ideological tangles. We openly protest to take back the night. I make male and female friends of every race and religion and orientation and it all feels equitable and the way the real world should be. I don’t shave my legs all winter. I march with the Black Student Union to the freshman quad to demand I don’t remember what from the Dean. One Christmas I fly home sporting fake Malcolm X glasses, leather Africa medallions and a lot of opinions. My dad picks me up at the airport and later asks everyone in the family but me if I’m a lesbian. Dressed like that, politicized like that, with my “tomboy” history—what else could I be?
What my father does ask me about is what I want to do after college. Whatever it is, I’m told, I should want my boss’ job. That’s where the power is. If you don’t want your boss’ job, you have the wrong job. So if I still want to be a doctor, become Chief of Surgery. If I want to teach, become Teacher of the Year. I do journalism for fun at college because there’s no television station, so I tell him maybe I want to write. Then, Dad says, become the publisher. He sends me articles on mastery and how to achieve it. The bar is set high—as high for me as for the boy he never had, I think, so I accept his challenge. I try to jump that high. Into top positions. Into leadership. Into power.
Unlike Dad though, I think public sector work is for the birds, even when in the “power position.” Dad had achieved that – he rose from community college counsellor to assistant Dean, Dean (the youngest dean in California ever at the time), Vice President, President, then Chancellor of an entire district. He was the top dog, the leader. But then sometimes he would say if he were in the private sector, he would be a CEO making ten times as much money. But it just so happened his heart was in education, and he chose it over what could have been real wealth. Another mixed message I struggled to process. Go for heart or for money or for power? And do they have to be separate?
My power equation, I came to realize, extended beyond my father’s. Mine was leadership, plus affinity, plus money. And, luckily, I told myself, my heart was in writing—television to be specific—a very lucrative field. (Journalism, I’d discovered, paid even less than teaching). So I told him I wanted to follow the Hollywood path. I wanted to come back to California. Come back home.