An Open Letter to Assata Shakur

Dear Assata,

I hope that this letter finds you in the comforts of your freedom. I won’t take too much of your time.

One day (about a month or so ago), I visited my favorite herbal apothecary. I picked up a 21 day guided journal and I as gifted a bracelet with “Exist Like Assata” etched into it. I am a firm believer in the intentions of the universe. I took it as a sign that during this current time and space in my life, I was supposed to be learning something from you. Prior to receiving this bracelet, I had no idea who you were, what your impact was or how much you’d change my life. All I knew was that I was being encouraged to “exist” like you….whatever that meant.

Being the bookworm that I am, I decided to begin with your literature. I’ll be honest, I typically finish reading books in about three days. Your autobiography took me over a month to finish.

As I read, I researched. I researched words. I researched locations you mentioned. I researched the Black Liberation Army. Your autobiography was my first introduction to it. In the history of my education, it has NEVER been mentioned and after reading, I fully understand why.

As I read, my blood boiled. I became frustrated. The frustration led to anger. The anger led to feelings of such helplessness that I cried and had to continuously put the book down until I pulled myself together.

Assata, I am in awe of your spirit, strength and the courage that carried you. Thank you for inspiring me to make greater efforts to be an advocate for our people. Most importantly, I thank you for sharing your truth. I wish you continued freedom, light and love.

-Racquell

Museum of Thought: Poetic Perspectives from Adolescence Volume 1

I remember being 13 and experiencing my first thoughts of suicide. I remember bouncing back and between thoughts of hanging myself or overdosing on prescription painkillers. It would be safe, clean and painless. Self-inflicted pain was never my “thing.”

 

Museum of Thought: Poetic Perspectives in Adolescence is a poetic time capsule of my depression. My words sometimes served as a therapeutic release. It was my outlet, but oftentimes I felt that it wasn’t enough. I cried a lot in silence. When I wasn’t crying, I was writing. When I wasn’t crying or writing, I was reading. All the while, nobody in my immediate family knew. I had a few friends that knew how I felt but could only offer the type of support that kids could offer, friendships. I harbored more than my share of negative feelings and emotions.

 

If I allow others to tell my story, they’d assure you that I was happy. I was always smiling and being silly. I was always the “pretty and smart girl that’s going to do well in life.” That’s always been and unfortunately continues to be the narrative that people tell about me. I grew to hate it. It was the image of a person that others created for me, with good intentions I’ll assume.

 

Pretty and smart girls don’t fuck up. Oops, I said fuck. Taboo. Pretty and smart girls do well in school, decline peer pressure, drugs and alcohol (ALWAYS), go to church religiously, don’t have sex casually and marry the guys of their dreams. That’s a whole lot of pressure to be under. A pressure that I never asked for.

 

Oh yeah. And pretty and smart girls damn sure don’t deal with depression.

 

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I’ve never been one to complain and I’m still not extremely comfortable with sharing things that bother me. When you’ve voiced things that bothered you and nothing changed or you’ve been punished for your voice, it forces you to go dormant sometimes. When you’ve voiced things that bothered you and you’ve been judged, it forces you to keep them to yourself and figure it out on your own. That was me for 18 years. For the past 10 years, I’ve been trying to determine exactly how and when to use that voice. 10 years.

 

I’ve held onto some of these poems for well over 15 years. I’m sure that there are more that have been lost or destroyed out of fear that someone would find them, read them and I’d be punished for my thoughts.

 

To be honest, it wasn’t until 2015 that I began to take a look at how all of these factors played into my current mental health. In November 2015, upon suggestion by a psychologist, I voluntarily committed myself to a behavioral health observation unit for 24 hours. Here I was with a whole degree in Psychology sitting there trying to “figure some things out.” Within these 24 hours I learned a lot. I learned that what I had been dealing with was in fact depression along with anxiety. I also learned that if I didn’t deal with it properly, I’d either end up back in the observational unit or worse. It was a chance that I wasn’t willing to take.

 

Deep diving into depression isn’t an easy task. Everything has a root and most of the issues that we face go back to childhood. Reflection forces you to not only hold yourself accountable but it requires you to confront those that contributed to your depression. They don’t get a pass. I forgave myself and them as well. I understood that I could no longer use this as an excuse. I had to move on. Everything needed to be unpacked.

 

Luckily for me, many of these poems were of great help. They were reflections of where I was mentally. I hadn’t looked at these poems in 12 years and here I was digging them out of a bin in search of understanding. I found a binder and began organizing them.

 

 

I debated on how and when I wanted to share my thoughts with the world. I reasoned that if I could help myself, just imagine how many others could possibly be inspired to tell their stories.

 

Over the past 3 years, I’ve been slowly leaking a ton of these poems on my social media and at open mics. It amazed me how much people could relate. There were others who had been journaling and battling with depression for years as well. Some even had the same fears that I had.

 

The universe has a funny way of letting you know it’s time for a shift. I’ve had the ISBN number for Museum of Thought since August but didn’t start typing until I had a private mental breakdown and quit my job. I knew then that the time had come. It was time to release my collection and to be transparent.

 

As you read Museum of Thought, I ask that you reflect back to being 13 years old. Where were you mentally? What mattered? What shouldn’t have mattered? At 16, what was pressuring you? At 18, what decisions were you making? At 21, who mattered and who didn’t? What was the vision that you had for your life?

 

Museum of Thought is a deep dive into what depression felt like as I transitioned from 13-21. It’s an example of what depression looks like for some of us- the strong friend, the happy go lucky person, the go getter. The nerd. The bookworm. The social butterfly.

 

Museum of Thought is a message to my younger self that I never needed to be perfect. I needed to be me. Beautiful things can truly come from broken places. Regardless of what happens, these things remain constant:

 

I am deserving of good things

I am my own light in dark spaces

I am not a victim of circumstance

The universe is aligning things in my favor

This journey is my own and I choose what to accept

 

What does your Museum of Thought say about you?

Tangled

So I’m only a few months shy of my ten year high school reunion. Yes it’s already been ten years since the Northern Vance High School Class of 2008 has been together. It seems like just yesterday that I was sitting Mr. Pearce’s AP English class being convinced that Emily Dickinson was the greatest American poet. If no one else, I’m especially stoked to see a few familiar faces.

What a coincidence. Tangled by James W. Lewis is just about that! Tangled gives us the dramatic unfolding that takes place at the Monte Clara Class of 2005 high school reunion. I wish I could give you all the juicy details but then you wouldn’t be compelled to read it.

But here’s what I CAN tell you.

James does a fantastic job of placing readers into the heart of the fictional drama. The fact that I’m around the same age as most of the characters added to the effect of the emotions and frustrations that the characters experienced throughout the book.

The books chapters are divided into characters. This allows readers a glimpse into each characters perspective while still keeping them all interwoven up until it goes down at the reunion. Gerald, Lisa, Greg, Aanya, Quinton and Yara could very easily identify as people that I know.

Everyone knows that life happens. James introduces each character by catching us up to speed on how their lives have evolved since high school. The stories are very familiar. The hopes and dreams that we have post-graduation are often deferred for various reasons. He details how these deferrals have affected each character. It was easy to relate to where I thought I’d be in life at this age. Like Lisa, I too thought that I’d be a homeowner, business owner, wife and mother by now.

Gang, I really wish that I could go into greater detail but I can’t. You’ll have to read it for yourself and then we can discuss.  Tune in Saturday April 28 at 4:30pm EST via Pretty Dope Reads Book Club to discuss Tangled on Facebook Live with my book club. Make sure you read that facts that James shares at the end of the book in addition to reviewing it on Amazon. Oh yea, and tell a friend to tell a friend too.

http://www.jameswlewis.com/

*A very special thank you goes out to the author, Mr. James W. Lewis himself. Thank you for reaching out to me and getting a copy of the book in my hands. I am forever grateful.

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Black As I Wanna Be: Choppin it Up with Ezekiel Walker

Ezekiel Walker has no idea what he has done. He just exposed me to an entirely different avenue that I have yet to explore. Thanks to the opportunity to interview him about his work, I will now be periodically featuring “choppin it up” interview sessions with various NC creatives. If we don’t support us, who will?

But anywhoo, chopping it up with Ezekiel was like getting to know a new cousin at the family reunion.

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So here are the basics:

Name: Ezekiel Walker

Roots: Charlotte, NC

Education: Bachelor of Arts- Psychology, Winston-Salem State University (2008)

Work:         Reminiscent of a Familiar Face (2010)

The Madea Factory (2014)

Black As I Wanna Be (2016)

Seventy Moons (2018)

 

*sidebar*

Black As I Wanna Be is the ONLY audiobooks that I have ever listened to and finished in its entirety. Now I don’t know how other authors do their audiobooks, but I’ll assure you that the way Ezekiel presents his information is quite unique. Not only do you hear Ezekiel’s voice, but you also hear news interviews, direct quotes, a splash of Chance the Rapper and Big K.R.I.T’s Live from the Underground. Dope right? Go check it out.

 

the well thought out maneuvering and adaptation of implementing an alternative approach to the more commonplace response of egregious actions

Ezekiel Walker on what being a revolutionary means (Black As I Wanna Be, 2016)

 

Keep in mind there was a ton of laughter, “me too’s” and “I know right’s” during this interview. This is just a brief recap. Want to know more? Read and support his work.

Here’s the interview.

 

What is your purpose?

To spread information, to encourage people to be who they are, write as they want and to be creative as they wanna be.

 

Who has been the most influential author for your work?

I was inspired to become an author after reading Hip Hop as a Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap/Edition 1 by Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar. I was also influenced by Gil Scott-Heron and Dick Gregory.

 

Did you receive a lot of support early in your work?

Yes. I also found that it is important to know your audience and know your platform.

 

What kinds of backlash have you received in regards to Black America’s beloved Madea character?

Some people didn’t like it. But after reading, they respected my opinion. I was simply holding people accountable.

 

Was it difficult doing the research involved to write Black As I Wanna Be?

It was fairly easy. There’s the news, social media, CNN.

 

Seventy Moons is different from your other work, what sparked the change?

Circumstances. I was in a coffee shop. I zoned out. I’m a novice to poetry.

 

At any point, did you lose your sight creatively? If so, how did you find it again?

It all starts off with a paragraph. Then there are a group of paragraphs. They turn into chapters.

 

You pen some very heavy topics, what’s your outlet?

Traveling. Trying new foods. Holistic healing.

 

What’s your secret for getting into a good creative headspace?

Reading. Music. Crown Royal. Observing things in motion.

 

In what direction are you heading creatively?

Film.

 

In a world of hashtags, which ones do you hate the most?

#woke #staywoke #alllivesmatter

 

What’s your favorite show on TV right now?

Blackish

 

What was the last reality TV show you watched?

Flavor of Love

 

In your opinion, what would bring effective change to our world?

There isn’t one single effective solution but people having the desire to be more proactive.

 

Last question, if you had to give advice to a young black man trying to stay alive, what would that advice be?

Watch your surroundings. Be considerate and strategic with what you do.

 

We could have easily kept the conversation going for hours (y’all know I like to talk) but it was CIAA weekend in Charlotte and I didn’t want to take up Ezekiel’s entire day. I encourage you all to check out his past work and stay tuned for the released of his next line of work Seventy Moons. You’re in for a very conversational poetic masterpiece.

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Bucketlist: Start a Book Club

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’d just like to say thank you from the top, middle and bottom of my heart for supporting a passion I’ve had since I was a kid, reading. I hold such a great appreciation for literature and everything it’s done to shape and mold my life and apparently yours too. Just for the record, I’ve never been a member of a book club or started one before so I thank you all for being willing to take a chance on me. When I imagined what a book club should look, sound and feel like, this is it! Special shout outs to all my friends, family and strangers that encouraged me to just do it. To Scuppernong for being such a dope space for bookworms and wine sippers. I promise not to give this speech at every meeting. Just today. If everyone could take about 20 seconds to introduce yourself to your neighbor just in case you need to borrow tissue. Thank you.

-me

Yes. This was the actual thank you speech that I gave to members at my first ever Pretty Dope Reads Book Club Meeting held January 24, 2018 from 5-6:45 at Scuppernong Books.

Backing up a bit……

Let me reiterate that I’ve never been a member of a book club but  have always wanted to. As much as I’ve read, one would assume that I would have. I’ve been presented multiple opportunities but never found my place in one. So one random day I said you know what start one……so I did.

Without a single clue I conceived and birthed Pretty Dope Reads Book Club. Of course I did a little research. Wanna know who I turned to for direction? Naturally the only black woman that I ever saw growing up with a book club. You betcha. Oprah Winfrey! There was so much groundwork that I needed to do prior to even picking the first book. I had to ask (myself) and answer (myself) real time questions like who my target audience would be, the genre of books we’d be reading, location and methods of communicating with members all before even creating discussion questions. I’m not going to pretend that it was easy figuring it all out. Not by a long stretch. I spent many days jotting down random thoughts on sticky notes and many nights with wine and notepads beside the bed just in case something came to me in a dream. It was bananas. And the day I knew I was losing it for sure was when I began asking Milo for advice.

Fast forwarding a bit.

My sights had been set on Scuppernong Books, a bookstore located in the heart of Greensboro North Carolina. The location was perfect seeing as though it was, well, a bookstore and the atmosphere was chill and suitable for reading. The owners are friendly and super accommodating, so if you’re in the area, check them out and tell them pretty Dope Reads Book Club sent ya.

Once the location was booked, I decided to promo the club just on the strength of having the location solidified. Nuts I know. But hey. I literally started from the bottom now I’m here.

The promo went well. Too well actually. I was overwhelmed with the amount of love and support I received from everyone. Not  that I had any doubts but yall please understand that I often feel like I’m the only person that fully supports my work. As I should be. So I’m ALWAYS surprised. ALWAYS. As a matter of fact, I received so much support that I had to change how I wanted to put out information. I couldn’t just limit the club to Greensboro. I needed to be able to reach members across the states (and hopefully the glove one day). So I Had to create an entire online platform in addition to the local meetup. So if you’re in the local area and want to join us, we meet every 4th Saturday of the month. Locations and updates are posted in advance on our Facebook page.

Ok, so where was I?

I post a series of discussion questions, quotes, memes and polls in the weeks and days leading up the meetings. I have an itinerary and typed up additional discussion questions that are too touchy to be discussed in the online setting.

Live footage of me getting ready for the meeting.

The space in Scuppernong is perfect for discussion and for the first meeting I purchased a bottle of wine for all to sip. My local supporters shows up as promised. The biggest surprise was when my friends showed up from the DMV area and Charlotte. Talk about icing on the cake! The discussion went over so well that we even skipped the intermission that I had planned for us. It was such an honor to be able to discuss such touchy subjects in an open setting where everyone shared their thoughts, ideas and beliefs without any drama. Perfect would be an understatement.

So yeah. If you’re a bookworm like me or you simply want to connect with people that like reading and like having collective discussion without the BS, please hit the like button on our page and send me a message to be added to the private group where discussions are held. And I hope to see you soon, whether it be online or in person at the next meeting.