Out of Ashes: Finding Faith

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Faith is a fickle thing. I am living proof of that. I’m not just talking about religious or spiritual faith–I mean just faith in general. I have a tendency towards pessimism and cynicism. Life has always shown me it’s ugly side. Logic and things I could tangibly touch and feel where the only things that made sense to me.

I was raised in the Church. A Southern Baptist Church to be exact. So think: lots of old school negro spirituals, folks dressed to impress, baptism, Sunday school, and long, drawn out services. I hated going to church as a kid. I was more or less coerced into going. My Grandmother would bake me cakes if I behaved and my Grandfather would keep me quiet with peppermints and butterscotch candies. When I was about sixteen, I started to rebel against the church. I used to purposefully be scheduled to work so that I could skip out on service. My Grandmother expressed her disappointment in me but I stood my ground.

It was around this time that I stopped believing in God and the church. How could I believe in a God that allowed me to experience the pain I was going through after the Big Bang? What kind of God allows his children to suffer the way that I was? I had an awareness of spirituality and what that might look like, but I just didn’t buy into it. Interestingly enough, around this same time, I started calling myself the Phoenix.

I think I’ve said this before in a previous post, but it makes sense to explain it here. Out of all the magical creatures from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series, the Phoenix is my favorite. It was the Phoenix that healed Harry’s wounds and brought him the tool to defeat his demons (the basilisk). And it was the Phoenix that allowed me to believe that life was worth living. The Phoenix gave me faith in myself and my abilities. Most of all, the Phoenix gave me faith in something bigger than me. And I have continued to rise again and again.

The Phoenix gave me strength, but my Grandmother continued to talk to me about God. I decided that I could live with being spiritual, but I was not religious in the way that my Grandparents were. I still didn’t go to church, but I found strength and grounding in the gospel music that my Grandmother listened to. It wasn’t until after my Grandmother passed away that I would think about finding my way back to a church. I went to church the day after she passed. And then I didn’t go again for three years. I couldn’t go to her church–it would be too painful. And for a long time I was too afraid to try something new.

The funny thing about faith is that you can possess it without knowing it. You don’t have to believe in God or some invisible divine being to feel trouble within your spirit and soul. My natural school of thought is logic and even I knew when I needed to go to church–or at the very least, hear some words of comfort. Anything to help me make sense of the stress and obstacles of life.

So today I went to church. Something completely different than what I am used to. I grew up with the rigidity of the Baptist church. Today I went to a contemporary church– in a movie theater of all places. I was researching churches and I knew that I didn’t want to be reminded of my Grandmother’s church. I didn’t know what to expect.

What I found was a community of individuals brought together by their shared faith. I didn’t feel pressured to do anything. I was openly welcomed and given a tour. I believe that everything happens for a reason. And I do believe that I was meant to go to church today to hear the message I heard. The message was about listening and obeying. It was about how we have so many distractions in life and we don’t take enough time to be still and listen to what God/the universe is trying to tell us. If we are still and listen, we can obey and understand.

Which brings me to my next point, after my Grandmother passed away, I found comfort in watching Pocahontas. I heavily identified with Disney’s Pocahontas because she relied on her Grandmother Willow for wisdom and comfort. Grandmother Willow says to “Listen with your heart, you will understand.” She also tells Pocahontas that “sometimes the right path is not the easiest one.” It took me up until this very moment to understand that this is just another example of my faith–just like the Phoenix–it gives me strength. It helps me keep the faith that everything happens for a reason.

No matter how hard life gets, no matter how much you want to give up, keep the faith. Find something that keeps you going. Find something or someone that you can resonate with. I am by no means a master of faith, but I have seen first hand how it changes things. Faith comes in all forms–it doesn’t always have to look like a church, or a bible, or even prayer. Faith is the belief that things can change for the better. Faith is believing in the things we cannot see but believing anyway.

I share all of this because I have lived a difficult, painful life. And for a while, I let it get the best of me. I felt defeated and hopeless. I felt like I was covered in darkness for a long time. But one day, I opened my eyes and saw the light. I discovered that life is whatever you decide for it to be. If you think that everything is always going wrong, your life will continue to go in that direction. It’s the law of attraction. You must speak things into existence. But if you dare to choose to keep your head up and see the lesson in every situation, you will find strength. It will make things more bearable.

Here I am, out of ashes. Rising again in a positive light.

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Take a Knee and Get Out

For many black millennials–such as myself– the turning point in our place in the world was when George Zimmerman was found “Not Guilty” for the murder of Trayvon Martin. That was in 2012. In 2013, the #BlackLivesMatter movement was officially born after the acquittal of Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin. And then there was Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice–the list goes on and on and gets longer everyday.

For me, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has been vital in understanding where I stand in the world. Personally, I have found myself in more heated conversations about race and civil rights than ever before. “Blue Lives Matter” and statements such as “All Lives Matter” were formed in opposition to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Let us not forget that our Grandparents are children of the Civil Rights Movement. And their parents, and probably their parents, parents were sharecroppers and slaves. We have grown up thinking that the work was done. The Civil Rights Movement was only 60 years ago. Ruby Bridges JUST turned 63.

In the 90s, when Rodney King’s assault was caught on camera–that was a turning point in American history. There was digital proof that police brutality was real. In the last decade alone, with the development of video/camera phones and social media, these events are readily accessible at the tips of anyone’s fingers and easily distributed throughout the world wide web.  

I can only speak for myself when I say that I was asleep until Trayvon Martin’s death and all the deaths that have followed. I grew up in a place surrounded by Whiteness and I was blinded by the fact that I come from a family that was accepted by the Whites in our neighborhood. I was comfortable in that guise of acceptance. But what I failed to realize growing up is that I could only ever attempt to blend in–I would never, and more than likely, will never be able to “fit in” with white people. And if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t want to.

When White America elected Donald Trump as it’s president, I felt the ground underneath me shift. The air felt different. People didn’t look the same to me. Everywhere I went, I felt like a walking target. Then I made the mistake of going to see Jordan Peele’s acclaimed Get Out alone in a theater full of white people. Again, I was the only black person present. In scenes where I was literally holding my breath, they were laughing. This enraged me. But, they were watching a different movie than me, I was seeing it for what it was in relation to the Black Experience. They were just watching a thriller. Again, I live in a predominantly white State. So why I thought it was a good idea to go grocery shopping in the more affluent area of my city–I don’t know. But I felt apprehension and terror seeping into my consciousness directly after watching the movie. Needless to say, I didn’t get any groceries and I took my black ass home.

And then there was all that media coverage about the Neo-Nazi rallies. I found myself just trying to keep my mouth shut around white people. For the first time, I am taking these incidents personally. In the past, I would allow microaggressions to slide. I would ignore things in plane sight. I would swallow myself in order to be “accepted” by white people. I don’t anymore. So when I experience incidents of racism at work, I address it. But what good is that? The same person I am reporting these things to is clueless when it comes to racism in America. I have been told by white people that “it is 2017, people don’t teach their kids to be like that anymore. They teach them not to see color because color doesn’t matter.” This same white person in particular, also told me that I couldn’t play a guess the baby picture game because I’m the only black employee. But that’s not racist, right? It’s questionable, to say the least. But then to go on and say that you were tan as a kid so maybe I could pass? Are you serious?

There are white people that I have considered to be friends that I’m questioning. Because knowing and acknowledging your Privilege is not enough. And I just don’t have the energy to educate every single white person I come in contact with on the Black Experience. They seem to have it down a la appropriation, anyway. Yeah, I said it. And?

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem in 2016, his intention was to bring awareness to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. He took a knee because the countless number of black lives lost should matter more than a song and a flag. Nevermind that the Star Spangled Banner celebrates the oppression of blacks and promotes slavery. What happened after he made these statements? He was basically fired from his job. For exercising his Constitutional Rights. Freedom of speech.

Let’s revisit Get Out for a moment. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll recall the auction scene. When I was watching the auction scene, I thought about the black athletes–the modern day slaves. White people own them, their brands, and if these athletes don’t do as they are told, they are penalized for it. The only difference is that they refer to their owners as “Coach” and not “Massa.” That’s why Kaepernick is a free agent. Not because he isn’t a good enough player. He is a free agent because he couldn’t play nice like the rest of the slaves.

And then once again, Donald Trump centers white supremacy and labels the players “SOBs” who deserved to get fired. And for what? Speaking up? Being black? I am so confused by the state of America and how this man is even President. What I am talking about is basic 8th grade American History.

The sad part is, Kaepernick’s message has been overstepped by the players taking a knee more recently. I’m not sure that they are kneeling for the same reasons Kaepernick did. They are kneeling in rebellion against Trump’s statements. That’s all anyone sees it as–it’s no longer about #BlackLivesMatter.

I recently joined a knitting group (don’t judge me, it’s a coping mechanism) where the ladies basically “stitch and bitch.” There was one woman in particular who didn’t look pleased with my presence. Let me point out that I was the only black person sitting at the table. Another woman asks “what do you think about this knee thing? And I see the other woman’s face twist into a red ball of rage. She begins shouting–literally shouting– that she doesn’t care what color you are and what you’re protesting. She says that it’s disrespectful to the flag, to veterans, etc. In that moment, I knew was no longer safe at that table. I did not have the energy to even address this woman’s line of thought. What did I do? I stood up and left. I tried to talk to someone else about it (also white) and I am told that perhaps I’m being sensitive about it.

There is nothing sensitive about racism. There is nothing gentle about white supremacy. So why should we be gentle in addressing issues that affect us as a people?  

I’ll take a knee before I ever stand for racism.

Expand Your Brand

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One year ago, today, I started this blog. A whole year. 365 days. 52 weeks, 26 paychecks. And I am still here. I used to dream of having my voice heard by strangers. And look at me. The girl with stage fright–the girl who hates attention–is speaking out. I haven’t posted as often as I would have liked to but self forgiveness is the key to moving forward to a better future. I have spent this past year finding my voice and what is that I am passionate about speaking on. In the beginning this blog was about me sharing my story in hopes that others would find the same burning strength that I do through words.

But, if you’ve followed me on this journey, you’ll see that Finding Fenix has been more than just my story. There have been book reviews, author Q and A’s, political views, shared experiences, and topics about what it means to be a black woman in America. Originally, when I was starting my blog, I wanted to call it Phoenix Tears. At the time, I was (and still am) writing a memoir of what would have been the same title. I wanted to promote myself. What better way to become known than a blog? It hasn’t been that simple.

I decided that Phoenix Tears was a little depressing and not catchy enough. I needed a gimmick so that people would remember me. Thus, Finding Fenix was born. And, to my surprise, this last year really has been about me finding myself all over again. Finding Fenix could not have been a more perfect title for my blog.

I am incredibly proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and taking the first steps to put myself out there. I am humbled that 534 people took the time to view my site and read my content. This number might be small now, but this is just the beginning. I want to expand Finding Fenix. I want to brand it.

There will be more content, and more consistent posting from this day forward. Ambition without a plan is just a dream. I’m awake, now.  I have so much more to say and I want to share it with all of you.

Thank you for flying on this journey with me. Flame on.

Flight of the Fenix

Flight of the Fenix

I have lived a difficult life. My struggles may not seem severe to some, but my life has been hard. I have lived a life full of fear because of the trauma I have endured. I have never known a life that was fluid or easy. It was never in the cards for me. I have spent the majority of my life struggling to find ways to be comfortable and content. But it was never for all the right reasons. I never wanted to be comfortable with myself because I was so busy trying to make other people around me comfortable.

My mom passed away when I was two years old and because my family is well-known, every one in the city knew. Parents told their kids. And those kids bullied me. They thought it was funny that my Grandparents were raising me. They thought I was a freak. We were in kindergarten and first grade and kids went out of their way to my make experience uncomfortable. I was the freak with no parents. And no one–not even my family–ever let me forget that.

In middle school, my Grandparents and I relocated to Indiana. Where I was bullied some more. My hair wasn’t right, my clothes weren’t stylish enough, I was too quiet.  I wasn’t pretty enough. I remember being grade a C- on the Appearance Report Card. But that grade wasn’t low enough for the classmate who consistently groped me in the middle of my last period art class in 8th grade. I was 13. No teacher ever came to my rescue. My Grandfather had just died and I didn’t want to burden my Grandmother.

In high school, I had trouble adjusting to being back in Rhode Island.  At the end of my sophomore year everything around me just started to crumble. I felt myself splitting in two as the familial issues arose. July 3, 2007 is a day I will never forget. My cousins and I call it “The Big Bang.” In Spring of my junior year, at age 17, I was homeless. I found solace in working and playing sports. Circumstances forced my hand and long story short- -I had to live with the source of my anxiety. I developed insomnia, ended up in counseling, and my grades slipped. I started skipping school regularly. Then, again, in Spring of my Senior year, we were homeless again. My Grandmother’s health was all over the place during this time, so I had that pressure on my shoulders in addition to the regular stressors of teenage life.

After I graduated high school, I couldn’t wait to get out of that city. I thought that would be the cure-all for my PTSD and its symptoms. I was wrong. My freshman year of college consisted of going home every weekend to work and living alone in my dorm because the roommate I was assigned didn’t work out. I was always in my room and I hardly ever went to campus events. I stayed on campus to work the Summer of 2010 and it turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done. That Summer I met new people–who I’m still friends with to this day–and came out of my shell. I still went to counseling and my Grandmother’s health was still all over the place. By my junior year, I was working 3 jobs and going to school full-time. I got into a relationship with someone who was older than me and I thought I was in love. That’s what we all think, right? Young and dumb, I guess. At the end of my junior year, I knew that I was not mentally prepared to go back to school in the fall. But I went anyway. And then I had a nervous breakdown. And I allowed myself to break down in front of my Grandmother for the first time. She was spooked. It’s crazy how people are always surprised when the strong person can’t be strong for those few months. She cried with me and told me that she supported me no matter what I did. She let me know that it was okay to take care of myself. Shortly after that, I got out of the mentally/emotionally abusive relationship that I had been in for almost 3 years.

Fast forward a year or so, I was working at a group home for teenage girls and found that I loved working with kids. But I paid a price for it. I worked there for 5 years and I was assaulted and injured. I worked 40+ hours a week. A few years later and my Grandmother’s health starts to decline and I decide that it was time for me to move back home to help her out. The very same day I began moving my stuff back into her house, was the day she died. She had no idea I was even moving back home. It was a surprise. I self medicated with sex and alcohol–but ended up back in therapy because I found that I wasn’t coping in healthy way. It has taken me two years to come to terms with the fact that she is gone. I have my moments, but I am not in the deep abyss that I used to be. Two years later, and I got the courage to leave a job I loved because it wasn’t good for me–mentally–anymore.

My whole life I have lived in some sort of fear. Always afraid of what people think about me and how they perceive me. I have difficulty forming relationships because ultimately, I believe that people will leave me. The way each of my parents did. The way most of my family has. I fear being lonely so I put up these walls–brick-built–so no one can get in. I thought it was safer this way. But in hindsight, it hasn’t been healthy. It hasn’t been easier. I’ve just made it harder on myself. I don’t like crowds and I don’t like being touched so I used to stay in the house all the time. But there is an entire world outside waiting for me to explore. So now I spend my days living and exploring. I want to live my best life.

I say all this because someone out there needs to hear this the way I needed to hear this 10 years ago. IT GETS BETTER. But ONLY IF YOU WORK FOR IT. You create your happiness, it doesn’t just fall into your lap. The fear of missing out on your dreams has to be greater than the sum of your other fears.

Present day, I help homeless families find stable, affordable housing. I still work a lot, but I enjoy what I do. And every day off I get, I am doing something that scares me. I want to be fear(less). Fear less. If you told me 10 years ago, that I would be where I am today, I would have laughed. I came close so many times with thoughts of suicide. But I don’t allow those thoughts to permeate my self talk. I have learned that you have to trust your fear. There is a reason you are afraid. But some fears have no reason other than preventing you from living your whole life. I don’t really care what people think of me. I still get anxious in public, but I don’t allow it to prevent me from living my best life.

I am so grateful for all of the experiences that have shaped who I am today. Without fire and ashes, I couldn’t be the Phoenix that I am today. They key is to persevere. Rise above your fears and self-doubt and let that fire push you to your full potential. I’m not where I want to be, but I thank God and the universe that I am not where I was 10 years ago.  

The Incredible, Forgettable

You ever just get so overwhelmed with things in life and just think to yourself, “what’s the point?” Or maybe you’ve given up your dreams because your current situation doesn’t necessarily allow you to fulfill them. Maybe you’re someone who starts projects and never finishes them. Or maybe you’re like me and you have all of these major ideas swimming around in your head and there is so much to sort through it’s just hard to get your thoughts on paper. Or maybe you feel like because you don’t have a big enough following on social media that you won’t get enough exposure for people to buy into your Brand and what you represent.

And if you’re anything like me, you aren’t willing to pose half naked for an iPhone photoshoot for likes. Maybe you’re good at makeup but you don’t have the time to devote to it full time. Maybe you have a lot to say but no one wants to listen because you don’t present a certain way.

Maybe you just want to be able to spread good vibes and inspiration in multiple formats. In theory, Social Media should be your playground but you’re too scared to take a risk and move out of your comfort zone. Who would want to follow you? What is your message? What are you trying to bring awareness to? How are you any different from any other page?

Life has shown me that I’m the person that people remember for negative reasons or they just don’t remember me at all. Despite the fact that I have made conscious efforts to change who I am perceived to be. To outsiders, I appear to be your average woman. But deep in my heart and soul, I know that I am not average. Why? Have you read anything I’ve written? I have a story to tell. I am a product of strength, wisdom, and melanin. I want people to see what life has done for me. I’m not where I want to be, but I am damn sure glad that I’m not where I used to be.

I want to share my passion–I want to touch people’s’ lives. But how do I do that with stage fright? How do I do that when I am the Incredible, Forgettable?

I don’t have these answers. But I will. All in good time.

 

I Care: Advice from Beyonce

Listen: Beyonce- I Care

Be Who you are

I’m a loner. Always have been. I feel more comfortable being alone. There could be several reasons for that. I’m an only child. I never had siblings to socialize with. Sure, I had cousins, but that isn’t the same. Back in the 90s, if you didn’t have a mom and a dad–you were picked on and bullied. I never had many friends. I have never known how to talk to people. I’m inherently uncomfortable around strangers. I make it a point to find as many ways to avoid human contact in public as possible. I don’t know what it is. Sure, it’s anxiety. But is it more than that?

I have already established in previous posts that I don’t trust easily. There are reasons for that. It’s been a long journey to being 26. A long, painful one at that. I have walls up but they serve the purpose of protecting me from potential pain. Life has taught me to what I hope to be an excellent judge of character. I am hypervigilant. I don’t miss anything and my memory is both a gift and a curse.

As humans, we try to pretend that we don’t care what people think of us. But that school of thought is ridiculous. The truth is that everyone judges everyone. Judgement is a fundamental element in natural selection. The difference is that some of us are compassionate enough to find the strengths in someone’s weaknesses. But then there are those of us who ridicule and criticize. That’s the difference between a hater and a supporter.

I have tried damn hard to pretend that I don’t care what people think of me. But if I am being honest with myself–I care. I care because I want to be good at being a good person. I want to be genuine, authentic. I care a great deal about social justice and people who have less than I do. I even care about people who have more than me. I care about people. But I can’t deal with being around people all the time. Where is the sense in that?

My theory is that I have a habit of taking on other people’s’ stress–their issues. I internalize and empathize to at some points to a fault. I have learned that about myself. And the best thing I can do for me is to learn how to say no. I’m trying to teach others like me the same.

I have spent many years trying to find my own identity that is me to the core and not layers of others. It took a long time to get here, but I think I have a pretty good grasp on who I am. The issue I seem to be having is convincing other people that I am who I say I am. As I’ve stated in other posts, people like to use the terms “bitch,” “selfish,”  and “rude” as adjectives to describe me. In my heart, I KNOW I am none of these words.

I see myself as a product of my experiences. I have been heavily influenced by the way my Grandparents raised me. I am independent because that is what I was taught to be. I am wise because of my life experience and my love of books and all things educational. I am compassionate and for the most part, pretty damn understanding. I care about the environment. I care about people. I’m not an animal person but I appreciate them. Honesty and loyalty are real for me. I am real. I am very direct, and most times I get criticized for it. Because no one likes confrontation. I am not afraid of the truth or its delivery. If you ask me something, expect the full, blunt force of the truth. Nothing less. I am funny. I love to laugh; and what better gift is there but to spread joy? I have feministic views. I love women. Especially black women. I am true to my roots with my natural hair and melanin. I want us all to succeed. I will always tell a woman how beautiful she is, that I like her outfit, or anything that will uplift her. Empowerment is important to me. Both for men and women alike–no matter what background. I do a lot of selfless things daily but I never get recognition for it.

Clearly, I know who I am. But do other people see me how I see myself? Logically, I know that there are bad people who are well liked and that there are good people who are overlooked. I also know that “nice” does not necessarily mean “good.”

I asked people who knew me personally on Facebook if they thought I was a good person. Because, validation.

M: I believe you are a good person because you are a good advocate for other and yourself. You don’t go out of your way to harm others. You are not purposely cruel. You are kind, smart and loyal. You might not show it but you are a big (whispers) softy. You carry the world on your shoulders. And no one knows. Not because you are evil, cold or unkind but because you have learned a way to survive. DO NOT and I mean it DO NOT let the way people PERCEIVE you, DEFINE you. You have gotten this far because you have successfully (even if at times it felt like a failure) navigated thus far. You are a strong Sail in the middle of a Hurricane.

A: You’re nice and fun. You have a good head on your shoulders and you tell it how it is.

K: They should you are kind, caring, helpful. You have a beautiful soul. Others should know that just by having one conversation with you.

A2: I think you are a great person. Maybe to some people they just need to get to know you better. Once they get to know you, you make people laugh, and you are a great person to talk to. You give people compliments. Everyone has bad days, it doesn’t mean they are bad people. Keep being you

D: Um, obviously. Your line of work proves that alone. Plus, I’m only friends with good people 😝. The fact that you care whether or not you’re a good person proves it too. Assholes don’t care about the impression they make on people.

I am not someone who opens up easily to others. Like I said, I have no idea how to talk to people unless there is a situation where I feel comfortable or the awkwardness is mutual. The point I am trying (and I think failing) to make is that I want people to see me as a good person. I could give a damn if they like me or not. But you will respect the fact that I hold my own and I am AM A GOOD PERSON. I don’t have to be liked. I don’t need a lot of friends or followers. I just want who I am and the movement that I represent to be respected.

People will never understand me fully. I have accepted that. Like M said, I have many layers and it takes a special person to be patient with me and discover the richness and purity that resides in my soul.

 

THUG Life

THUG Life

As a young black millennial, I have been making efforts to consciously read more books based on the black experience. I read a lot of books, but most of the time I’m reading about people and places I can’t wholly connect with. I have only read a handful of books in my lifetime that I could relate to. I have been searching for more opportunities to read black authors and books that contain black characters.

I have been a little out of the loop in terms of new releases and I stumbled upon an advanced reader’s copy of Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give by chance. A co-worker told me she found an ARC I would like that was based on the Black Lives Matter Movement. I was intrigued. I took it home and attempted to read it. At first, I couldn’t get into it. Not because the writing was bad, or the subject didn’t peak my interest, though. I don’t know about anyone else, but I tend to read a lot of the same types of books for a while. It just so happened that at the time I tried to read this–back in Jan/Feb–I was waist deep into a pile of thrillers. I couldn’t focus. Eventually, I got off the thrill ride and was able to pick up The Hate U Give.

Starr Carter is a sixteen- year -old girl who finds herself navigating between the world’s the Hood she lives in and the suburban Prep School she attends. Starr’s world comes crashing down when her childhood friend, Khalil, is shot and killed by a police officer. Starr is the only witness and everyone wants answers as to why an unarmed teenager was shot and killed by the police. Khalil’s case makes national headlines and the black community is furious. They want justice. Starr finds herself blurring the lines between who she is at her school and who she is at home. Is she betraying black men by having a white boyfriend? Is she betraying her Hood by wanting to get out?

I can only describe the experience I had reading this book through the perspective of a young black woman. I found that I had to read this slowly and deliberately. I had to put it down several times. Either I was too enraged, to hype (slapping my knee and hollering in agreement), or just grieving for not only the characters, but the black community as a whole.

In my opinion, this book gives a daringly accurate account of the black experience. Although I didn’t grow up in the Hood personally, I experienced many of the things Starr, her family, and her friends experienced.

“Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang–if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it, even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her “hood.” Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she’s the “angry black girl.” Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is non -confrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto. I can’t stand myself for doing it, but I do it anyway.”

Starr is remarkably intelligent and insightful. She is aware of the power of presentation when it comes to “fitting in” and not wanting to be stereotyped. I still struggle with maintaining both sides of myself. As a kid, I was taught how to speak so that white people could feel comfortable–but it’s never been comfortable for me, just like it isn’t comfortable for Starr.

Starr’s family is one example of what a family looks like growing up in a poor community. I enjoyed the fact that Angie Thomas incorporated gangs, alcoholism, and blended families into the story. It made it that much richer in substance. These are issues that aren’t necessarily exclusive to the black community BUT for the purpose of this story, it worked. I loved the dynamic between Starr and her parents. Her father, Maverick, is an ex-con/former gangbanger and has educated himself and his kids about how to deal with the police. I can recall having the same talk with my Grandfather as a kid.

As for Starr’s relationships with the kids at Williamson  Prep–it’s what I would expect from a teenager. It’s difficult as it is, trying to navigate friendships in high school. But when you had the media and the pressure of social injustice–something is bound to happen. I, for one, was ecstatic when Starr molly-whopped Hailey. She deserved it.

“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

This book is a must read. For educational or motivational purposes, you choose. But you must read it. I mean REALLY read it. Marinate with it and let it sit. Let it be uncomfortable. Let it scare you. Allow this book to make you angry, let it make you cry. If the only thing you take from this book is that having a voice and an understanding of how to use it appropriately, then Angie Thomas has done her job. It’s up to US to make the changes happen.

The question you are asking yourself shouldn’t be “Am I racist?” It should be: “what am I doing to stop the spread of hate?” In ALL forms.
Thank you, Angie Thomas, for writing OUR story. I REALLY hope the message isn’t lost when this is made into a movie. Five Stars!